Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the brain and nervous system. Here's the low-down on the symptoms and treatments if you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed...
29 August 2016| Last updated on 2 January 2018
Multiple Sclerosis (also known as MS) is an unpredictable disease that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and body. It is often labelled as an auto-immune disease, and is considered to be a medical mystery.
The cause of MS is still unknown, although it has been proven that something triggers the immune system into attacking the brain and spinal cord instead of protecting it.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system, which controls everything that we do. The average immune system is created to protect the body, however in the case of MS, the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, thus affecting the cental nervous system. As a result, the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves are affected, causing a number of symptoms including vision loss, weaker muscle control, fatigue, difficulty in balance and more.
How does it work?
MS is a result of the immune sytem attacking the myelin in the body. Myelin is the fatty materials which play the role of protecting the nerve fibres in the body. The attack of the myelin results in nerve damage as the nerves are no longer being protected by its outer shell. The damage of the myelin causes a disturbance between the signals of the brain and the body. This means that the brain cannot send signals through the body correctly. This disturbance causes sudden and impulsive symptoms to those who suffer from MS.
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Did you know? There's different types of MS
Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS): The most common form of MS, people with RRMS may experience the relapses (attack of MS) as the new symptoms appear. The new symptoms may go away partially or completely.
Secondary-Progessive MS (SPMS): Most people with RRMS may eventually transition into SPMS. SPMS symptoms can gradually increase over time, although relapses may or may not occur.
Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS): Being one of the less common forms of MS, PPMS patients have steady worsening symptoms from the start and do not have any relapses.
Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS): The rarest form of MS, PRMS slowly worsens the state of the disease from the beginning with some acute relapses that may or may not have a full recovery.
What are the common symptoms of MS
The affects of MS are different and vary from person to person. Although some have mild symptoms and may not need treatment, others may not be as lucky and may have some trouble or disorientation while doing their day-to-day tasks. Therefore, it is important to note that although someone suffering from MS may appear physically well, they may not be feeling as well as they look. Additionally, due to the symptoms of MS, some patients may take a little more time to complete a task than someone who does not have MS.
Fatigue: This is a very common symptom of those who suffer from MS. The fatigue can come in any form; mild enough to complete daily tasks adequately or severe enough to interfere with one’s daily functions and tasks.
Numbness and Tingling: Numbness in the arms and legs are some of the major symptoms of MS. Feeling numbness or tingliness in the face and body is likely with MS patients.
Spasms: Muscle spasms and stiffness occurs most commonly in the legs, but can sometimes occur in any other limb.
Weakness: As a result from deconditioning of unused muscles and damage to the nerves, weakness can be a symptom of MS, but can be managed with rehabilitation strategies.
Vision Problems: For many, the first symptom of MS occurs in the vision. With blurred vision, poor contrast, and pain while moving the eyes, this is generally the first sign of MS and should be taken seriously.
Vertigo: Many MS sufferers may feel disoriented while feeling dizzy or light headed. Vertigo and dizziness is a symptom of MS and as a result, many who suffer from MS and the vertigo symptom may find themselves off balance and disoriented.
Bladder Control: Most people with MS experience bladder dysfunction. Bladder dysfunction can be managed by monitoring the bladder activity, and through diet and in some cases medication.
Bowel Trouble: Constipation is one of the symptoms that many MS patients experience. Through diet, exercise, fluid intake and medication, constipation can be controlled.
Brain Functions: Many MS sufferers experience cognitive changes including a lack of organisation, problem solving, lack of concentration and focus, and difficulty to remember information.
Emotional Behaviours and Depression: Some studies have suggested that clinical depression attacks MS patients more than any other chornic illness and the general population. In fact, studies have showed that more than 50% of people with MS will experience a major depressive episode¹. Being one of the most common symptoms of MS, depression alongside mood swings, irritability and other mental symptoms.
How to manage having MS
Due to the fact that MS is a medical mystery, it is sometimes difficult to diagnose. A set of medical tests must be made by a knowledgeable or specialised neurologist before a diagnosis can be determined. Although there is no cure for MS, there are modified therapy sessions and medication that can be taken to help reduce and slow down the internal damage for those with MS.
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Such treatments are important as they can act as a preventative for future attacks. Additionally, there are some other treatment options to help with some MS symptoms.There are worldwide medical research efforts being made to find a treatment that can slow down or even stop progressive MS and repair the damaged nervous system, while restoring the destructed functions, however as of today, no treatment has been found.
Those living with MS can manage their day-to-day tasks and live a perfectly healthy life by making some lifestyle adjustments such as; exercise, diet, de-stress and relaxation, mental exercises and regular intake of their treatment.