Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease, often diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. For different people, the progression of multiple sclerosis is different, making it difficult to predict what can happen in the future.
However, newly developed drugs and treatments have been safe and effective in slowing down the disease to a large extent. But the cure is still unknown.
What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disease that affects the central nervous system; especially the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. MS is an autoimmune disorder wherein the immune system attacks the myelin sheaths in the nervous system, causing inflammation.
Myelin sheaths protect the nerve fibers and help the nerves to pass electrical signals. As a result of the inflammation, sheaths disappear and sustain scars or legions in multiple areas. Hence, the name multiple sclerosis or “scars tissue in multiple areas”.
As more legions develop in your nervous system, the nerve fibers can be damaged permanently, causing irregular flow of electrical impulses. This can lead to communication failure between the brain and the body. Following this, your body cannot perform certain functions.
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis
The symptoms of MS can vary from person-to-person, based on the amount of damage and the location of the affected nerve fibers. Because of this, it is impossible to predict the course of MS in any person. Besides, MS symptoms can affect any part of the body as MS affects the central nervous system, which is responsible for carrying out all the actions in the body.
Nonetheless, the most common symptoms of MS include:
- Numbness and tingling of limbs
- Muscle weakness
- Bladder problems
- Bowel problems
- Electric shock sensation
- Lack of coordination
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Muscle spasms
- Vision problems
- Learning and memory problems
- Mobility changes
Moreover, some people only experience mild MS symptoms while for others, the symptoms can worsen within weeks or months and lead to disability. However, MS affects different persons differently.
Here are five key facts you should know about multiple sclerosis.
Difficult to diagnose
MS is very difficult to diagnose because many of its symptoms overlap with other conditions. Usually, doctors carry out neurological and physical assessments, enquire about symptoms, and analyze the person’s medical history to diagnose MS. But it can take a long time to reach the final diagnosis.
Usually, doctors perform the following tests and rule out other possible conditions:
- MRI scans, which may reveal nerve damage
- Blood tests, to eliminate other conditions
- Evoked potential test which measures how well your nervous system sends or receives the messages
In addition, doctors perform a lumbar puncture in which, a needle is inserted in your lower back to retrieve cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. This spinal fluid is analyzed to identify antibodies from any previous infection.
If the doctor diagnoses the person with MS, more tests are performed to identify the type of MS it is and predict future changes.
Cause remains unknown
Even now, researchers have been unable to understand what causes MS or why the rate of progression is unpredictable. Yet, MS is primarily categorized as an autoimmune disorder. As for why the immune system attacks myelin sheaths, the reasons remain unknown. Many doctors believe the following factors can increase the risk of MS:
- being female
- having a history of other autoimmune diseases
- living in cold climate
- being aged between 20-40 years old
- having a family history of MS
MS affects more women than men
As per the National MS Society, MS is two to three times more common in women than men. In fact, women with MS experience specific symptoms differently from men. However, the reasons for this remain unknown.
In women, MS symptoms usually appear between the ages of 20 and 40. While most women can experience the same MS symptoms as men, they can also experience certain specific symptoms because of the female sex hormones.
Moreover, MS can affect contraception, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause in women, because of the influences from hormonal changes.
Treatment with vitamin D
Studies suggest a possible connection between MS and vitamin D. Generally, people with MS have very low levels of vitamin D, which is why increasing the intake of vitamin D helps their condition.
In fact, studies have proven that additional vitamin D treatment is safe and effective for people with MS. Vitamin D supplements may help to prevent and treat the condition. Moreover, vitamin D treatment may result in fewer relapses in people already diagnosed with MS.
A silent disease
MS is often referred to as a “silent disease” or an “invisible disability” as it does not produce any obvious clinical symptoms or signs. In fact, people diagnosed with MS do not look any different than people without it.
Moreover, MS is known as a silent disease because the disease can progress even in remission, meaning the disease continues to progress even if the signs and symptoms of the disease disappear for a specific period.