Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the body’s normally healthy immune system goes into hyperdrive and attacks the outer sheath of the body’s nerve fibers in the central nervous system and in the brain. This sheath, called myelin, becomes compromised, and as a result, people with MS develop a variety of conditions relating to the breakdown of the nervous system. Each person’s experience of MS is unique, though there are many warning signs that MS may be at work in the body. Some experience a loss of mobility, others can become unable to breathe unassisted. Some forms of MS can progress quickly and can even be fatal. Other forms can progress slowly or even go into remission.
Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms And Diagnosis
Early signs that may point to MS are vision problems such as double vision or blurry vision. Other signs include dizziness, balance problems, as well as tingling or numbness in different body parts. Later signs of the disease may include incontinence, trembling, stuttering or other speech impediments, and rapid mood swings.
Because MS has many signs that can be confused with other conditions, it is sometimes difficult to diagnose. Rather than simply looking at the symptoms, a doctor would use what is called a “differential diagnosis” to compare your symptoms with those in other illnesses. In addition to performing a thorough medical examination and going through an intense medical history, many different tests are used to make the diagnosis and can include blood tests, a spinal tap, an MRI, or even an evoked potential test which measures the speed at which the body responds to certain stimuli. Those who have other progressive diseases or less frequently reported symptoms can take much longer to be diagnosed than those with the more recognizable symptoms.
Who Gets MS?
People of all ages can get MS, but typically MS afflicts those who have a family member that has the disease. These are typically young to middle-aged Caucasian women. Those who have contracted the Epstein-Barr virus are said to have a greater vulnerability to MS, as are those who have type 1 diabetes.
While no cure presently exists for multiple sclerosis. There have been many advancements in treating it and managing symptoms depending on the severity and type of MS that is being experienced.
Types Of MS
There are five basic types of MS. Each has unique qualities, which allow it to be differentiated from the others. For example, the most common form of multiple sclerosis is called RRMS, short for Relapsing Remitting MS. With this form of MS, the person experiences flare-ups which are followed by periods of recovery without progression of symptoms. This is the type of MS that is typically experienced by children, however, children tend to have more frequent flare-ups than adults
Next, there are Primary and Secondary Progressive MS. With Primary Progressive MS, the disease progresses without flare-ups, and at times seems to improve. As the disease progresses, it moves into Secondary Progressive MS which may include flare-ups.
Lastly, Progressive Relapsing MS progresses steadily without remission, which means that the MS patient experiences a number of flare-ups.
Each type of MS requires different types of treatments. Because each person’s experience of MS is different, physicians use customized treatments to deal with pain, discomfort, and also to slow the progression and severity of MS attacks.
Some physicians recommend physical therapy to aid their patient to adjust to their body’s ability and to strengthen other parts of the body in the process. MS patients can manage their MS symptoms through a combination of various therapies like yoga, acupuncture, massage, meditation, exercise, and even dietary change. Complementary and alternative treatments can also make it possible for the MS patient to manage muscle pain and fatigue symptoms.
Alternative Treatments for MS
Some patients report success in using oral doses of cannabis to manage pain and to reduce spasms. Risky therapies such as magnetic therapy, the use of bee venom or Ginkgo biloba are not recommended or sanctioned.
Often, medications are required to manage MS. However, some of the medications can cause other complications or symptoms. For example, Corticosteroids are often used to reduce inflammation of the nerves but have unfortunate side effects including fluid retention, higher blood pressure, and even insomnia. Another drug, Teriflunomide, which can reduce the relapse rate of MS, can also cause hair loss and more severe side effects, especially for pregnant women. Dimethyl fumarate can reduce relapses. However, it too has unpleasant side effects including nausea, diarrhea, and lower white blood cell counts.
There is no magic pill that can fix MS, no magician that can wave a wand and make it disappear forever. Researchers continue to look for the genetic markers which can show what makes someone more susceptible to MS. Someday they may find those factors, and it may be that someday MS will become a disease of the past.