Multiple Sclerosis (MS for short) is a chronic disease that can affect one’s day-to-day functioning. It is believed to be an autoimmune disease and affects the central nervous system of the body. This is the system in the body that controls the functioning of the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord. The effects of MS can vary from person to person based on the severity of the condition. While some people suffering from multiple sclerosis deal with mild symptoms that has little to no effect on their functionality, others struggle through severe symptoms that can impair their mobility, sight, cognitive ability and even their ability to talk, swallow or feel. MS is estimated to affect over 2.5 million people worldwide, but its actual prevalence can only be guessed as the symptoms of this disease often manifest extremely mildly and may not be diagnosed or even noticed in many people. Keeping that in mind, we have realized the need for awareness and information to be available to the public. Here is all the information you need to better understand multiple sclerosis.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, and as mentioned earlier, it affects the central nervous system. The central nervous system is the system of the body that uses nerve impulses to send messages from the brain to the rest of the body that allows us to control our limbs and the senses of sight and touch. In people suffering from MS the immune system, which usually uses inflammation to fight off bacteria and viruses, attacks the central nervous system mistakenly instead. This can lead to breaks in the blood-brain barrier. This barrier is the barricade of cells around the blood vessels in the spinal cord and the brain, and its ordinary function is to stop foreign substances from entering the bloodstream. But breaks in the blood-brain barrier can lead to inflammation in the spinal cord and brain, causing severe levels of damage to the nerve cells, affecting both the fatty substances that protect the nerve fibers (termed as myelin) as well as the cells that produce these fatty substances (termed as oligodendrocytes). This can lead to the buildup of plaque, lesions, and scars along the covering of myelin tissue. The word sclerosis itself means the hardening of scar tissue where the myelin of the body has been damaged, and accumulated scar tissue of this sort is what is termed as Multiple sclerosis.
What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis can cause a wide variety of symptoms to occur depending on the severity of the condition. The severity of the symptoms themselves can also change over large stretches of time or even on a day-to-day basis. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS and in some cases, the lethargy experienced can be absolutely debilitating and affect mobility and functionality. Another common symptom that most patients suffering from MS experience are a difficulty walking. This is because of the plaque build-up caused by the breaks in the blood-brain barrier leads to restricted mobility and can cause muscle spasms and a weakening of the muscles, as well as numbness of the extremities. Balance and vision can also become impaired. All of these symptoms combined along with fatigue can lead to a difficulty walking, and even result in many accidents and falls occurring. Other symptoms of multiple sclerosis include difficulties speaking and different kinds of speech disorders, muscle spasms, seizures, and body tremors, and even cognitive impairment, including memory loss, reduced concentration, and problem-solving abilities. Multiple sclerosis can also cause random intense pains or more persistent chronic pains, which can add to existing feelings of lethargy and immobility.
What Are The Types Of Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a life-long ailment and is essentially called by damage caused to fatty tissue, myelin, after attacks by inflammation cells in the body. This disease affects the Central Nervous system, but the manner in which it attacks the nerve fibers and nerve cells can differ. To this effect, we’ve listed for you, the different types of multiple sclerosis that can affect the body.
Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS)
This is one of the first neurological occurrences of multiple sclerosis and usually occurs in the form of an episode lasting up to 24 hours. It has a few signs and symptoms, with minimal lesions or scarring within the central nervous system. Based on the signs and symptoms experienced, these episodes can be categorized into two types. Some episodes are called by a single lesion or form of damage and therefore have only one symptom. This type of episode is called a monofocal episode. The other type of episode occurs because of the presence of multiple lesions, which implies the presence of multiple symptoms, and is therefore called a multifocal episode.
Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)
This is one of the most common types of multiple sclerosis diagnoses in people. This type of multiple sclerosis involves constant relapses of this disease and its symptoms, followed by immediate remission periods of the disease, during which symptoms are mild or completely non-existent. Relapses can occur frequently, during which time the disease can flare-up and the symptoms become exacerbated. Approximately 85% of initial diagnoses of MS in patients is of this type of multiple sclerosis.
Primary Progressive MS (PPMS)
This type of disease manifests by slowly and steadily progressing with respect to symptoms and severity. With this type of multiple sclerosis, the disease continually worsens over time, with rare occurrences of stability in between, if any at all. Previously, any type of progressive multiple sclerosis which had frequent relapses was termed as progressive relapsing MS, but most patients suffering from this had few periods of remission. Now this disease is termed as primary progressive MS and periods when the disease is virulent in the body are termed as active periods, and periods of remission (minor though they may be) are considered the non-active periods of this disease. This type of MS only occurs in about 10% of multiple sclerosis patients.
Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS)
Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis is a type of multiple sclerosis that progresses steadily and worsens over time. Unlike primary progressive MS, SPMS continues to worsen regardless of whether the disease is in a relapse or remission period. However, noticeable relapses may still occur with sudden bursts during which the condition worsens and then continues its steady progress. This type of MS is likely to develop from Relapsing-remitting MS as well.
Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS)
This type of MS is one of the more severe and steadily progresses from the start of its onset in the body. This type of MS does not go into remission, while sudden relapses can still occur, even if there hasn’t been a full recovery from a previous relapse. This is a rare form of this disease and only occurs in about 5% of all the multiple sclerosis patients.
What Are the Early Signs of MS?
MS can be a little tricky to identify as sometimes the symptoms may not manifest when the disease starts to take effect on the body. In fact, in some cases, the effects of the disease may be so mild that the symptoms may be almost indistinguishable while performing your day-to-day activities. There are three major signs, however, that can be looked for to help identify the onset of multiple sclerosis. They are:
- The weakness of the legs and Balance problems: This disease can start by affecting your balance and the strength of your legs, so when this disease first begins to progress in the body, you will find yourself tripping frequently while you walk or perform other physical activities. Your ability to walk may also be impaired by the other two symptoms.
- Numbness and tingling of the extremities and limbs: During the early stages of MS you may find that your arms and legs, or even one side of face suddenly experience numbness or a tingling sensation, like the sensation of pins and needles you feel after your foot and hand falls asleep. Unfortunately, in relation to the disease MS, this sensation occurs for no specific reason.
- Vision Impairment: Early onset multiple sclerosis can result in numerous vision problems, due to the build-up of plaque blocking communication of the brain to the optic nerves. This can lead to blurred vision, loss of partial vision and even double vision, causing you to see everything in doubles.
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis and How Can It Be Diagnosed?
Multiple sclerosis occurs when damage is caused to the myelin protective layer around nerve fibers as a result of an attack by the immune system on the central nervous system. This damage to the myelin affects the brain’s ability to send messages (nerve impulses) to the rest of your body. What exactly causes the immune system to attack the nerve fibers with inflammation cells hasn’t been precisely determining but has been linked to environmental triggers, like viruses, bacteria, and toxins setting off the immune systems mistaken reaction. While MS isn’t hereditary, studies do show that genetics can make one susceptible to Multiple Sclerosis.
A number of tests have to be performed to diagnose multiple sclerosis, especially in the early stages. A neurological exam will have to be performed along with an MRI Scan. A spinal tap also termed as a lumbar puncture can also help to determine if there are any irregularities in one’s spinal fluid or other infectious diseases affecting mobility and spinal health. Many other diseases, such as Lyme disease, Sjorgens Syndrome and lupus also have symptoms that resemble those of multiple sclerosis, which is why one of the main tools to diagnose multiple sclerosis is to first rule out the possibility of other diseases with similar symptoms.
Blood tests are especially helpful for determining if the symptoms have been caused by another disease or condition. The evoked potentials test is one of the more commonly used tests for diagnosing MS as it works to analyze the electrical activity going on in your brain. The evoked potentials usually tested by doctors are optic nerves, the brainstem, and sensory potentials.
How to Treat Multiple Sclerosis?
While there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, there are numerous treatment options that largely work to slow down the progress of the disease and lessen the effects of the symptoms so that quality of life can still be maintained. The largest number of medications available are to treat RRMS, slowing down the progress of this disease and also reducing the rate at which the disease relapses. These drugs are available as oral medications, self-applicable injections and even intravenous infusions. However, these drugs do not work to effectively slow the growth of progressive forms of multiple sclerosis.
Numerous alternate treatments and therapies can also be tried that can help to manage the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and drastically improve quality of life. For many who suffer from severe symptoms of fatigue, aerobics and other forms of strengthening exercise can be extremely effective. It increases bone density and improves your overall energy levels. Following a healthy and nutritious diet, as per the prescribed requirements of a dietician or nutritionist can also help to improve your energy levels as well as individual senses like sight and smell and cognitive ability.
Herbal teas and supplements are also available that can help to manage a number of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis such as kratom, which can be extremely effective as an analgesic, a sedative or an energizer, as per the need. Turmeric is another herbal supplement, also available in powder and capsule form like kratom, that helps to improve your immune system and also helps to prevent oxidative damage to the muscle, nerves, and cells.
It is important to try alternative treatments alongside medical options, as they can improve your energy levels and help you combat fatigue. Multiple sclerosis can cause both mild and chronic pains making functioning harder on a daily basis and can severely restrict your enjoyment of life. Managing your illness is vital to ensuring that you can maintain a wellness lifestyle and still participate in the exciting world around you, without being bound by this illness.