5 Answers to your questions about Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a health condition that affects the nervous system. While it rarely develops into a severe disability, it can cause ongoing uncomfortable and often painful symptoms. In this article, we’ll learn more about MS, and answer some of the most common questions surrounding this chronic disease.
What is Multiple Sclerosis? While scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes MS, it’s been suggested that MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibres in the brain stem, cerebellum, spinal cord, optic nerves and some regions of the brain. This causes inflammation and scarring that interrupts electrical impulses from the brain to the target nerves, which in turn hinders proper body functions of those areas.
What are the symptoms of MS? Since MS affects the entire central nervous system, any part of the body can experience symptoms. MS also affects people in different ways. Some experience only mild symptoms that don’t progress for months or years. While others’ symptoms rapidly become worse and could lead to disability. However, most people will experience times when symptoms worsen and then get better.
Some of the most common symptoms of MS include:
Pins-and-needles sensation in the face, body, or arms and legs.
Lhermitte’s sign – an electric shock when they move their neck.
Bladder problems, including frequent urination, UTIs or incontinence.
Bowel problems, including constipation or incontinence.
Dizziness and vertigo.
Spasticity and muscle spasms.
Vision problems including double or blurred vision, eye pain or partial vision loss.
Changes in mobility or difficulty walking.
Emotional changes and depression.
Memory problems and inability to concentrate.
Neuropathic pain ranging from burning sensations in certain areas of the body to extreme pain.
Who is most likely to get MS? Scientists are unable to pinpoint exactly what the cause of MS is (most believe it to be a combination of factors). However, there are a number of risk factors that can contribute to the likelihood of developing MS. These include being between the ages of 20 and 40 years, and smoking. Women are twice as likely to get MS than men. Certain infections such as Epstein-Barr virus, mononucleosis, and other viruses such as herpes and mycoplasma pneumonia may also play a role. Those with low levels of Vitamin D and B12 are also more likely to develop MS.
While MS can be passed down genetically, it’s believed that environmental triggers must also be present to result in MS.
What are the treatment options for MS? While there is no cure for MS, some treatments can help slow the progression of the disease, reduce the number and severity of relapses, and relieve symptoms.
There are a number of disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) that can be used to change the way the immune system functions. These can be administered in the form of injections, oral medications or infusions. Different forms and stages of MS require different types of medication throughout the treatment period.
In addition to medication, there are many other ways to help reduce symptoms during a flare up. MS patients suffering from tremors, mobility issues or balance problems may be recommended physical or occupational therapy, along with specific exercises using weights. Some MS patients may also benefit from using walking aids such as a cane or crutches. Some medications and dietary changes can help with bowel and bladder incontinence. Antidepressants may be prescribed for mood changes. Acupuncture and heat massage are also helpful for pain management. Adequate rest and changes to routine are recommended to help offset fatigue.
What is the prognosis for people with MS? MS is rarely a fatal disease. It can be challenging to live with but if diagnosed early and treated properly, it can be managed. Two thirds of people with MS are still able to walk. And the average life expectancy for a person with MS is 5 to 10 years lower than the average person.
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