Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating condition that affects the central nervous system, and disrupts the communication between the brain and other parts of the body. MS is believed to be an autoimmune disease that causes the wearing away of the myelin sheath, the protective covering of the nerves, resulting in a slowing or stoppage of the transmission of nerve impulses. Symptoms of MS may vary depending on the amount of damage and the specific nerves that are affected, but it can can gradually affect vision, speech, movement, walking, and memory. MS commonly affects women more than men and is typically diagnosed in women between the ages of 20 and 40.
Causes of Multiple Sclerosis
MS is considered an autoimmune condition. While, the exact cause is unknown, some research has indicated that it may be a result of genetic factors, childhood infections, or environmental triggers. Like other autoimmune diseases, the body mistakes normal tissue as a foreign body and attacks it. In this case, the brain and spinal cord are affected.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis may vary depending on which nerves are affected. Many individuals experience muscle weakness and balance problems and common symptoms may include:
- Numbness or weakness in the limbs
- Loss of vision
- Double or blurred vision
- Tingling or prickling sensations
- Speech problems
Some individuals with MS may have difficulty concentrating, and memory problems. Symptoms of MS may also lead to depression. In certain individuals symptoms may not be continuous, and they may have periods where they experience no symptoms at all. In other cases, symptoms may disappear and then return or relapse.
Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis may be diagnosed by a review of symptoms and a physical examination. Diagnostic tests mat be performed to rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms. Tests may include:
- Blood tests
- MRI scan
- Spinal tap
A physician may also perform an evoked potential test which measures electrical signals sent by the brain and can help to detect any nerve damage.
Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis
There is no cure for MS and treatment usually focuses on managing symptoms and reducing the progression of the disease. Treatment for MS is usually a lifelong process and depending on the frequency and severity of symptoms, may include medication. Medications commonly used for treating MS may include:
- Muscle relaxants
- Beta interferon
- Glatiramer acetate
Medication may also be prescribed to treat depression in some patients with MS. Physical therapy may also help some patients manage the effects of multiple sclerosis through strengthening and stretching exercises.
Since MS can be a debilitating disease, it is important for patients to maintain an active, normal lifestyle and keep themselves as healthy as possible, both physically and emotionally. Eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting plenty of rest may help to relieve some of the symptoms of MS. Support from friends and family is important and some patients may benefit from MS support groups.