What is Multiple Sclerosis
Understanding a Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis
Multiple sclerosis is a disabling disease of the central nervous system that has frustrated patients and researchers alike, as there is currently no known cure. While no one is certain of the cause, it is understood that the disease develops when something triggers a person’s immune system to begin attacking the protective myelin sheaths that covers the nerves. This in turn creates a lack of communication between a person’s brain and their body that gives rise to a wide range of symptoms.
Although the symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis can vary according to which nerves are most affected, there are certain problems that are commonly reported among patients. These include:
- Numbness in one or more limbs on one side of the body
- Muscular weakness
- Tingling or pain in the body
- Double vision lasting more than a few minutes
- Slurred speech
- Electric shock sensations when moving certain parts of the body
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
Although an actual cause of multiple sclerosis has yet to be identified, it is known that certain genetic and environmental factors may place a person at greater risk of developing the disease. Among the greatest risk factors are the following:
- Being between the ages of 15 and 60
- Having one or more close family members with the disease
- Being a woman
- Having contracted certain illnesses such as the Epstein-Barr virus
- Living in a temperate climate
- Having known autoimmune disorders such as thyroid disease
As the disease develops, many patients also experience complications that arise from their symptoms. For example, disrupted sensations in a person’s legs may lead to muscle stiffness that eventually turns into paralysis. Cognitive changes, such as memory loss may also occur due to the lack of communication between the nerves and a person’s body. Due to the disruptions the symptoms cause in their lives, patients may also experience depression and anxiety.
Many people have mild symptoms that do not require treatment. For those who do require therapy, treatments focus mainly on slowing the progression of the disease and helping a person to manage their symptoms. Corticosteroids are one of the first treatments to be prescribed to a newly diagnosed patient, and plasma exchange may be used if a person has severe symptoms that do not respond to their medication. Other treatment options may include physical therapy and muscle relaxants to reduce a patient’s discomfort.
After a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, it is common to have many questions regarding what it means to have this disease. While new research is constantly providing new insights into possible causes and treatments, patients and their families still do not have all of the answers. However, most people are able to effectively manage their symptoms using a combination of treatments that reduce inflammation and slow the progression of the disease.