Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, auto-immune disease that impacts the central nervous system of the body, particularly the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves in the eyes – producing a wide array of symptoms in the body. Symptoms and affects of the disease vary from person-to-person, making it hard to predict the progression of the disease in the body.
In multiple sclerosis, the immune system of the body starts attacking the healthy tissue – the myelin sheath – that surrounds and protects the fibres of the nerves and helps them conduct electric signals efficiently. When the sheath is mostly damaged or disappears, it causes inflammation and scars known as plaques or lesions that mainly affect the brain stem, cerebellum (movement and balance coordinator), spinal cord, optic nerves and the white brain matter. As the severity of the problem increase, more lesions develop creating higher chances of permanent nerve damage. This causes communication problem between the brain and the rest of the organs, causing severe symptoms as well as loss of certain body functions.
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis; however, timely identification can be helpful in ensuring speedy recovery, modifying the course of the disease, reducing the intensity, and managing symptoms.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Since multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system of the body that controls all body functioning; hence, the symptoms can be seen on any body part. In each case, symptoms will vary depending on the part of the body affected by multiple sclerosis. Some of the common symptoms to watch out for are:
- Extreme weakness in muscles
- Numbness and tingling
- Shock similar to that of an electric shock while moving neck (also called Lhermitte’s sign)
- Loss of bladder control
- Bowel incontinence
- Loss of interest in sex
- Muscle spasms
- Vision problems (partial or full loss, prolonged double vision or blurry vision)
- Mobility problems
- Memory problem
- Acute pain
- Slurred speech
A few other symptoms that might be rare but do exist:
- Intense headache
- Hearing impairment
- Excessive itching
- Breathing problem
- Speech problems
- Issue in swallowing
- Urinary tract infection
- Loss of mobility
Symptoms affect the general quality of life, as well as worsen to also impact the perception, thinking and sensitivity to heat among affected people. However, each affected individual has different experienced. Some cases see subtle symptoms then no progression for a long period of time. While some experience continuously worsening symptoms leading to sever complications; and other might experience severe symptoms that tend to get better after a point of time.
Some complications include:
- Extreme stiffness in muscles
- Mental changes
You must see a doctor when you experience any of the above symptoms due to unexplained reasons. Multiple sclerosis is often categorized by a relapse and remit disease duration which implies that there will be period of new symptoms or relapse of symptoms over time in spite of being improved partially or completely. Often times, these period are followed by remission intervals that lasts for months or even years in some cases.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of multiple sclerosis is not clear, it is an auto-immune disease that attacks the healthy tissue of the body causing destruction to the fatty layer that coats and shields the nerve fibres of the brain and spinal cord. This makes the nerves more prone to damage causing problems. Though, the actual reason of why multiple sclerosis affects some people and not others is vague. That said, some factors that increase the risk of the problem are:
Age: People between 20-40 years of age have more chances of multiple sclerosis
Sex: Women are more likely to be affected by the problem than men
Genetics: The problem may be passed on though genes; however it does need an environmental trigger
Smoking: Smokers are at very high risk of contacting the problem and developing intense symptoms such as seizures and brain shrinkage
Infections: Exposure to certain viruses such as Herpes type 6, pneumonia, mononucleosis, etc. increases the chances of multiple sclerosis
Deficiency of Vitamins: Essential vitamins such as Vitamin D and B12 are required for the body’s immune system. A deficiency of these two vitamins can cause weakened immune system and lack of production of myelin – a compound necessary for proper neurological functioning.
Race: Asians, Africans and Native Americans have lower chances of contacting the problem.
Climate: Countries with temperate climate such as Canada, New Zealand, etc. record more cases of the problem.
Auto-immune Disease: Auto-immune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, thyroid or inflammatory bowel disease – are more likely to be impacted by multiple sclerosis.
Smoking: Smokers tend to have weak immune system overtime and if multiple sclerosis symptoms affect a smoker, there are more chances of complications than in non-smokers.
Multiple sclerosis could be triggered due to one or a combination of risk factors. It can be diagnosed through a physical and neurological exam in addition to the analysis of symptoms. Further, brain and spinal cord MRIs, analysis of spinal fluid, or an evoked potential test can be used to confirm multiple sclerosis.
Since, there is no defined treatment, only awareness and timely diagnosis can really help reduce the intensity of multiple sclerosis.