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HomeHealth A-Z Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis is an unpredictable disease and every patient has a different experience, but most people with MS live to a normal age.

Multiple Sclerosis

(skluh-ROH-sis)

Definition of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease in which the body attacks it's own central nervous system, destroying the protective coverings (myelin) of nerve fibers in the brain, resulting in muscle weakness, loss of coordination, numbness, and problems with vision, speech, and bladder control.

Description of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis, called MS for short, is a disease that has no cure and no known cause. Nevertheless, it attacks many individuals each year who are left wondering how to best treat the disease. To learn more about MS continue reading to find out what it is, how it is treated, and typical symptoms.

There are many nerve cells in the central nervous system. In fact, there are billions of them and they are all connected by axons, which are basically little nerve fibers. The nerve cells are the starting place for electrical impulses that then travel the nerve fibers all the way through the brain, spinal cord, and other nerves. The nerve fibers are covered by a substance called myelin, which in a sense is insulation for the nerve. Individuals with MS have problems with the myelin and it is attacked by the body, becomes swollen, and eventually breaks down and detaches from the axons.

When the myelin completely disappears cells accumulate on the never fibers and create a hard scar tissue covering on parts of the nerve. When the electrical impulses are sent along the nerve all goes well until it reaches one of these damaged areas of the nerve. When it does then the typical MS symptoms occur, which will be discussed in a bit.

MS affects individuals at a very young age on average. In general, individuals are around 30 years old when first diagnosed with MS. The beginning symptoms of MS may occur earlier in life as young as 15 or as late as 60, but almost never occurs before or after these ages. MS is a very unpredictable disease and every patient diagnosed has a different experience. MS is not curable, and it is chronic, but most people live to a normal age more or less. Most people who are diagnosed with MS live at least 35 years or more.

Individuals with MS may live practically normal lives at first and then have a relapse when the disease increases in activity. Symptoms increase after each relapse and they may be the same during each relapse or they may change during each relapse. The problem with the relapses is that over time the symptoms may become worse and worse and leave the individual with disabilities.

Other individuals with MS do not have relapses instead they have symptoms that slowly worsen over time. With this form of MS some patients will take years to worsen and others will only take months.

Causes and Risk Factors of Multiple Sclerosis

The exact cause of MS has still not been determined, but the erosion of myelin in the patient’s spinal cord and brain is believed to be the problem. Why MS occurs is believed to be due to genetics and other factors like viral infections or some other secondary factor. While the cause is not known, it is known that more women are affected by MS than men. In fact, women are affected twice as frequently as men are. Those who live further away from the equator and those from Northern Europe are more likely to suffer from MS.

Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Individuals affected by MS can expect to experience the following symptoms in varying degrees and severity. They include dizziness, tingling sensations, difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, numbness in arms and legs, tremors, hearing loss, vision loss, muscle weakness, muscle cramps, fatigue, spasms, poor coordination, confusion, forgetfulness, sexual dysfunction, paralysis, and others.

Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis

MS is diagnosed based on lab tests, a neurological exam, and a full medical history in conjunction with symptoms. Individuals will need to undergo all of these tests and provide the necessary information to determine if they have another disease similar to MS or actually have MS. Some individuals with MS may not be diagnosed early on because it can take years for the disease to progress and early symptoms are frequently vague.

Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis

There is no cure for MS and there is also no way to prevent it, but fortunately there are medications that treat the symptoms. Medications are also available to make the symptoms less severe and attacks less frequent.

Physical therapy is a wonderful MS treatment option for those individuals suffering from weakness and muscles stiffness. Individuals should exercise as often as possible in order to maintain muscle function and maintain strength. When MS progresses significantly and individuals suffer disabilities or have trouble walking they may find wheelchairs, walkers, or canes helpful.

It is important for individuals with MS to avoid increasing their body temperature. This can be from hot weather, a hot bath, or overexertion. Sticking by this rule of thumb will likely help reduce the MS symptoms. Another suggestion to reduce symptoms is to eat well, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise as much as possible.

Sometimes MS intravenous steroids are given to individuals after they suffer an attack to help them recover faster. The reason steroids work is because they suppress the immune system, which may help the nerve cells from being attacked and reduce inflammation.

Interferons like Betaseron, Avonex, Copaxone, and Rebif, may reduce the number of relapses individuals with relapse-remitting MS experience. Amazingly, in some situations mitoxantrone, a chemotherapy drug may be beneficial to the patient. Nobody is quite sure how the interferons work to suppress attacks, but it is believed the interferons may reduce the number of inflammatory cells that enter the spinal cord or brain.

The other treatments of MS focus on relieving symptoms like fatigue, bowel dysfunction, weakness, and pain. Anti-depressants and anti-convulsants work well to control sensory problems in some individuals.

Prevention of Multiple Sclerosis

Since there is no known cause of MS there is still no known way to prevent the disease.

External Resources

National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America

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