Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is an autoimmune inflammatory condition affecting the spinal cord and the brain. It develops when the immune system attacks the fatty substance protecting the nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord because it mistakes them as foreign invaders. There are approximately 2.5 million people in the world living with this condition, with two hundred new cases being diagnosed every week. Here are the early detection signs to look out for as well as common treatment options.
Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at some point in their life. Although anyone can develop the disease at any age, it usually occurs when a person is between fifteen and sixty years old. Having a family history of multiple sclerosis increases the risk of developing the disease, as well as smoking or having a history of mononucleosis. As autoimmune diseases tend to be related, it is possible to develop multiple sclerosis after being diagnosed with another autoimmune condition first.
Types Of Multiple Sclerosis
There are four main types of multiple sclerosis; Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) is the most common type. It occurs when the disease temporarily becomes active and then goes into remission. Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS) occurs when symptoms start to become worse over time. Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS) is the least common and happens when MS symptoms slowly become chronic. The final stage is Progressive-Relapsing (PRMS), which is very rare and occurs when the disease consistently remains active with no periods of remission.
Muscle weakness is usually the first symptom of early onset multiple sclerosis. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, unexplained muscle weakness occurs in approximately eighty percent of people with early stages of MS. The pain usually begins in the legs and may develop into tingling or numbness. Muscle weakness is often accompanied by chronic fatigue, which is a form of exhaustion that appears suddenly and can last for weeks at a time no matter how much rest the person gets.
Pain And Muscle Spasms
In addition to muscle weakness, people who experience early stages of multiple sclerosis may develop muscle spasms, muscle stiffness, and pain. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, approximately fifty-five percent of people with multiple sclerosis experience muscle pain at some point. Women diagnosed with the disease tend to have more pain than men. Muscle stiffness, spasms or pain may occur for no reason at all or when sitting for extended periods of time.
Vision problems may develop when a person looks at a computer screen for too long or simply gets older. In some cases, having trouble seeing may be a sign of multiple sclerosis as the disease has been known to cause inflammation of the eye. Talk to a doctor immediately if vision starts becoming blurry or if there are any episodes of double vision as this may be a symptom of early onset multiple sclerosis or another inflammatory condition.
Because multiple sclerosis attacks the spinal cord and brain, it is common to experience some cognitive problems, such as trouble remembering things. Other cognitive impairments may include the inability to find the right words when carrying on a conversation, a shortened attention span, or trouble staying organized. People with early stages of multiple sclerosis may forget where they put their keys or why they walked into a room. Talk to a doctor if memory problems accompany muscle pain or other symptoms.
Continuously running to the bathroom is not just an inconvenience; it may also be a sign of multiple sclerosis. Women who have just had a baby or people who are getting older may write this off as nothing serious, but it is important to talk to a doctor about bladder problems, especially if it accompanies other symptoms such as incontinence or sexual dysfunction. Strong urges to go, especially during the night, may be an early sign of multiple sclerosis.
Because multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition, it will never be fully cured. However, treatment options are available to reduce symptoms, which may allow the disease to go into remission for long periods of time before another flare-up occurs. Some people find relief using conventional medications while others find that taking a holistic or natural method works better. Be sure to work closely with a doctor no matter which treatment path is chosen as the disease can become crippling if treatment fails.
There are many medical treatments available by prescription only. These conventional medicines can be taken via an injection through the skin or into the muscle, while others can be taken orally in pill form. Injectable medications, such as beta interferons and glatiramer acetate, are used to treat relapsing-remitting MS. They are an excellent choice for first time MS patients. Injections will depend on the severity of the disease and may range from once every other day to once a week.
Several oral medications are available in tablet or capsule form. Fingolimod is a once-daily tablet that has been shown to reduce physical disabilities associated with the disease. Teriflunomide is another once-daily pill that is used to minimize the duration of multiple sclerosis flares and increase the patient’s time spent in remission. Dimethyl fumarate can be taken twice per day as a capsule, and it is designed to promote remission by deactivating the symptoms of the disease.
Mitoxantrone is used to improve cognitive disabilities associated with multiple sclerosis. It is a chemotherapeutic agent used on patients who have relapsing-remitting MS, secondary progressive MS or progressive-relapsing MS. It is given via an injection once every three months. Natalizumab is another intravenous medication that can be used on patients whose disease is rapidly becoming worse or is almost always active. It is given to patients once every four weeks via an injection.
Some people with multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune conditions find that the side effects of conventional medications make their disease worse; therefore, they look for natural remedies with fewer complications. While many holistic therapies are available to help treat multiple sclerosis, it is important to take them under the care of a physician as some herbs may interfere with medications. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of rest are recommended for improving symptoms of the disease.
Many women with multiple sclerosis tend to experience frequent urinary tract infections. Cranberry supplements will not help if a urinary tract infection is already present, but it can be taken to prevent future infections from occurring. Look for a supplement that includes cranberry powder along with a probiotic strain designed primarily for women’s urinary tract care to balance the bacteria in the vaginal area. If drinking cranberry juice, look for a brand that is not sweetened with sugar as this may cause the infection to become worse.
Osteoporosis, or low bone density, is a common side effect of multiple sclerosis. It occurs when bones become weak and frail. Supplementing with vitamin D has been shown increase bone density by aiding in the absorption of calcium. One study showed that patients who supplemented with vitamin D had a slower progression of their disease than those who did not over a five year period. It may also help to eat foods that are high in vitamin D, such as egg yolk, fatty fish, and mushrooms.
Acupuncture is a form of complementary and alternative medicine that has been used in disease management since ancient times. Be cautious of taking some forms of Chinese herbs after an acupuncture treatment, such as Asian ginseng and astragalus, which have been shown to over-stimulate the immune system and activate the disease by worsening symptoms. Be sure to tell a doctor or other health care professional about any medications that may interfere with an acupuncture treatment session.
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis tend to get worse when the patient becomes overheated. Because of this, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America provides cooling vests to its patients for treating symptoms. Staying cool can also help reduce muscle stiffness and pain. Wearing moisture-wicking clothing, sipping on cold beverages, and staying inside where it is air-conditioned during summer months can help. Staying cool may also contribute to improving cognitive thinking and walking, which are commonly affected by multiple sclerosis.
Meditation or improved concentration may help with many of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, such as impaired thinking or walking abilities. Meditation is an excellent way to relieve stress in patients who may not necessarily be able to perform aggressive forms of exercise, like running or walking. Try sitting in a quiet room for fifteen minutes a day and concentrate on taking deep breaths. Joining a tai chi class, a yoga class, or a Pilates class may also aid in reducing stress.
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Because multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition, it thrives off of inflammatory foods. Eliminating inflammatory foods from the diet - such as processed sugar, wheat, dairy, and gluten - may help improve symptoms. Focus on whole foods, such as unrefined whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and organic meats and fish. In place of sugary soda, try alkaline water or green tea. It is also important to get plenty of rest at night as this is the time when the body recovers.
Ginko has been shown to help improve fatigue and improve concentration, which are common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. However, ginkgo may interfere with other medications; when taken with blood-thinners, ginkgo can cause blood to become even thinner, which increases the risk of bleeding. Never take ginkgo before surgery due to the risk of excessive bleeding. Avoid drinking alcohol when taking both conventional and herbal medications as this may worsen symptoms. Always talk with a doctor before starting a new herbal remedy or medication.