Multiple sclerosis is a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. It is an autoimmune disease that is common in women more than men. This debilitating disease tends to affect the protective covering, that is, myelin sheath covering the nerves. Thus, affecting the nerve synapses. This damage is irreversible and causes many debilitating effects in the affected person. Let us know more about this incurable condition from the following paragraphs.
What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
Multiple sclerosis is a condition where fatty myelin sheath is destroyed by body’s own immune system. This affects the ability of the nerve cells of communicate with each other. One observes scars or lesions on the white matter present on the brain and spinal cord. Thus, giving rise to the name multiple sclerosis. This condition not only causes neurological problems but also affects the cognitive ability of the affected person. An affected person may suffer from relapsing form of disease or progressive form.
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is found to be more common in people, especially women in the age group of 20 to 40 years. However, any person or any age can be affected by multiple sclerosis. The exact cause of multiple sclerosis is still unknown. It is thought to be a combination of many factors like genetic, environmental factors as well as infections.
Multiple sclerosis is not a hereditary disease. Also, there is no single gene responsible for the development of the disease. There are many genes and their variations involved in developing the disease in certain individuals. There is high incidence of MS in people who have relative(s) suffering from the same disease in the family.
Environmental factors such as people who are less exposed to sunlight can develop MS. This is due to the decrease in vitamin D production as the exposure to sunlight is less. Thus, people living in areas far away from the equator are more likely to be affected by this disease. People under severe stress, chain smokers, exposure to toxins, solvents, etc. can develop multiple sclerosis.
Infections such as bacterial or viral infections are supposed to be triggers of this disease. There is no single organism identified that is solely responsible for the disease. However, viruses such as Epstein Barr virus, herpes virus as well as infection of diseases like measles, mumps and rubella can trigger MS.
Researchers also believe, an external trigger like a foreign body (virus or bacteria), toxins or substances can alter the immune system of the body. It will start recognizing the myelin sheath as foreign body and start attacking it. Thus, leading to scarring and destruction of the myelin sheath leading to MS.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
There are different types of multiple sclerosis. These include:
- Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis: This is a progressive condition where the symptoms tend to worsen with time. The initial symptoms are subtle like problems walking or holding things. It usually affects people in the age group of 40 – 50.
- Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis: This condition usually affects 65% of the people who have developed relapsing remitting MS. It is very difficult to diagnose and is different from primary progressive multiple sclerosis.
- Relapsing Progressive Multiple Sclerosis: This is the most common type of multiple sclerosis that affects around 85% of the people with MS. The symptoms tend to appear and disappear completely or partially.
- Multiple Sclerosis in Children: This is a very rare type of condition that affects children. It affects memory, thinking, coordination, etc. in children.
What are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis are varied and difficult to spot. Some may exhibit very few symptoms while some may suffer from multiple symptoms. Also, certain symptoms occur for a short duration and some have a severe impact on the health of the affected person. These symptoms occur according to the nerves of the brain and spinal cord that are damaged. Some of the symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness
- Walking difficulty
- Involuntary spasms in body
- Numbness, tingling or pricking sensation
Some people develop eye problems such as:
- Discomfort or pain in the eye
- Loss of vision in one or both eyes
- Optic neuritis
If nerves of the face are affected, the patient may develop:
- Pain and discomfort in the face
- Muscle spasms in the face
- Numbness, tingling or crawling sensation in face
Some begin to show problems with their bladder and bowel:
- Urinary incontinence
- Bowel problems
- Bladder dysfunction
In some speech is affected and they find it difficult to pronounce certain words (dysarthria). Some develop dysphagia. Men develop sexual problems like loss of erection or loss of interest in sex. Other symptoms include:
- Memory difficulties
- Attention problems
- Difficulty in problem solving or reasoning
Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis
There is no specific test to determine multiple sclerosis. Based on physical symptoms as well as combination of tests, multiple sclerosis is determined. Some of the tests include:
- Blood tests that help determine if any infection is leading to these symptoms
- Lumbar puncture test to check abnormalities of the white blood cells or proteins
- MRI scan to check lesions on the brain and spinal cord
- Eye examination to check problems with eye
Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis has no cure and treatment offered only helps in improving the quality of life. These treatment methods include use of medications like:
- Corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation of nerves
- Beta interferons to reduce the rate of progress of the disease
- Cholinergic medications that help in reducing problems with urination
- Immunosuppressant drugs that help in suppressing the immune system
- Physical therapy to help overcome cognitive disability
- Changes in diet to help give the body proper nutrition and strength
The prognosis of the disease varies in individual cases. However, it is a chronic condition that will remain for life. It does not affect the life expectancy to a great extent. Many people continue to walk as well as work independently with assisted changes around them for many years. If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms or have muscle or cognitive problems, speak to your healthcare provider. Although the disease is chronic and incurable, the symptoms can be managed and kept in control.
Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: February 4, 2015