More than two million people live with Multiple Sclerosis. An estimate of 200 new cases is diagnosed each week. With such a prevalent condition affecting people of different ages across continents, it is essential to learn more about this disabling neurological ailment.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
What exactly is Multiple Sclerosis? Multiple Sclerosis is a lifelong condition that targets the brain and spinal cord. It primarily affects the proper arm and leg movement. It also causes problems with vision, balance, and sensation.
There are two types of Multiple Sclerosis. The first is called Relapsing Remitting MS. As the name suggests, people with relapsing-remitting MS may experience symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis for a certain period of time, say a few days to a couple of weeks. After such time, symptoms peter out sometimes even without medication until things go back to normal. The condition may recur at any time. Most studies show that stress or illness may be a trigger for a relapse. More people have this type of Multiple Sclerosis compared to the second type which is much more serious. Primary Progressive MS, as it is called, is not as prevalent as the first type. The statistics show that only one out of ten Multiple Sclerosis turn out to be primary progressive in nature compared to eight out of ten that may be relapsing-remitting. In primary progressive, symptoms gradually become worse over time and cannot be reversed. However, these can stabilize and people with this type of Multiple Sclerosis do not have any choice but to learn to live with it.
What causes Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis is essentially an autoimmune system. For some reason, the immune system goes crazy and decides to attack even healthy parts of the body. For Multiple Sclerosis, the immune system attacks the brain or the spinal cord of the nervous system. Because of this, transmission of messages to and from the brain gets disrupted. Until now, no one can say for sure what triggers the immune system to do this but recent studies show that a genetic flaw and some environmental factors may contribute to increasing the risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis.
What are symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
There are many symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis and may differ across cases. Here are the main symptoms identified by The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation on their website:
- Vision – double, blurred, partial loss
- Hearing – central auditory processing impairment
- Smell – diminished sense of smell
- Taste – diminished or altered sense of taste
- Touch – numbness, tingling, burning sensations, itching
- Thoughts – impaired short-term memory or concentration, slower processing of information
- Feelings – Depression, personality changes, inappropriate laughing or crying
- Face – Facial pain, partial paralysis (Bell’s palsy), headaches, speech changes
- Muscles – muscle spasms, squeeze sensation, foot drop, swallowing difficulties
- Positioning – vertigo, dizziness, balance changes
- Elimination – incontinence, constipation, urinary retention
- Nervous System – tremor, weakness, fatigue, heat sensitivity, seizures
- Sex – erectile dysfunction, diminished sensation, decreased desire
The difficult part is that these symptoms are not exclusive to Multiple Sclerosis. The only way for you to find out for sure is to see a neurologist. Only a specialist can diagnose whether the condition is Multiple Sclerosis or not. Possible tests that a person with suspected MS might be asked to undergo include Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), blood tests, and spinal fluid analysis. The earlier the diagnosis the better. This is because medical intervention can be done immediately. Unfortunately, there is no cure. By medical intervention, we refer to a combination of medication, counseling, and therapy. As mentioned earlier, people with multiple sclerosis will have to learn to live with it. The good news is that not a lot of people experience the worst end of Multiple Sclerosis especially when diagnosed early. In most cases, people with MS successfully adjust to their condition and live normal lives.
What treatment is available for people with MS?
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation outlined various ways to treat Multiple Sclerosis. Remember, there is no cure so what will follow are ways to manage the symptoms.
- For fatigue, suggested intervention could include modifying activities, occupational therapy, and medication
- For altered sensations such as numbness or tingling, a combination of medication, exercise, acupuncture, and a healthy diet can help
- For impaired coordination, both physical and occupational therapy are essential
- For tremors, adaptive equipment may be needed apart from exercise, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and medication
- For depression, counseling might be needed
- For bladder dysfunction, catheterization might be suggested
- For bowel dysfunction, diet management, adequate fluid intake, and medication will be needed
- For vision concerns, medication and adaptive equipment might be prescribed
- For cognitive dysfunction, a combination of occupational therapy, medication, and cognitive rehabilitation
- For sexual dysfunction, counseling and medication should happen
While the ones mentioned above are for specific symptoms, there are other things that you can do generally:
- Once diagnosed, the doctor will prescribe a certain medication. Stick to the prescription religiously
- Have a healthy lifestyle. This includes diet and sleep. Some cases have identified stress as a trigger for multiple sclerosis. Slow down, eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep
- Once symptoms manifest themselves, see your physician right away. Medical intervention is needed to proactively manage symptoms before they worsen
- You do not have to feel alone. Seek a counselor. Find a support group. Surround yourself with positivity. Read stories of people who have successfully adjusted to a life with this condition. You can help yourself by staying positive in the face of it all
Multiple Sclerosis may seem like an overwhelming challenge to take on but it is not impossible. Understanding it is already half the battle. Always remember that it is not a death sentence. By learning to positively and proactively live with its symptoms, you can still live a long and happy life.