What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to
your nerves, which leads to communication problems between your brain
and your central nervous system. Although there is no cure for MS, a variety
of treatments are available to help you recover from attacks, manage symptoms,
and change or slow the progression of the disease.
Symptoms of MS vary depending on the severity of your condition and the
areas of your body that are affected. Symptoms of MS may include:
- Difficulty speaking or slurred speech
- Problems with sexual function
- Problems with bowel and bladder function
Symptoms that affect movement may include:
- Numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in one or more limbs, which often
occurs on one side of your body at a time
- Numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness of your legs or trunk
- Electric-shock-like sensations that happen when you bend your neck forward
or with other neck movements
- Loss of coordination
- Difficulty walking
- Problems with balance
Symptoms that affect vision may include:
- Pain during eye movement
- Partial or complete vision loss, which often occurs in one eye at a time
- Double vision
- Blurry vision
Causes and Risk Factors
The cause of MS is unclear. However, physicians know that MS symptoms result
from an immune system problem that leads to the destruction of myelin,
a substance that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal
cord. When myelin is damaged, it leaves the nerve fiber exposed and results
in slowed or blocked nerve signals that lead to MS symptoms.
You may be at a higher risk of developing MS if you have a parent or sibling
with the condition. Women are more likely to develop MS than men.
There is no specific test that is used to diagnose MS. Your doctor may
start by taking a detailed medical history and performing a physical exam.
Your doctor may then begin ruling out other conditions by performing exams
or ordering tests, including:
Neurological exams. Neurological exams will differ depending on your age, but older children
and adults will be asked to answer questions and complete simple tasks
to test movement, muscle condition, the function of each of the senses,
and general neurological well-being.
Cognitive tests. Cognitive tests assess your memory and concentration.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses radio waves and magnetic fields to create detailed images
of your body. An MRI of your brain may be ordered to check for abnormalities.
Blood test. Your doctor may order blood tests to look for problems.
Lumbar puncture. A lumbar puncture, also called a spinal tap, involves removing a sample
of your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from around your spinal cord and testing
it to check for abnormalities.
Evoked potentials study. An evoked potentials study measures electrical activity in your brain and
nerves in response to sight, sound, or touch.
Although there is no cure for MS, treatments can help you recover from
attacks more quickly, manage symptoms, and change or slow the progression
of the disease. Treatments include:
Medication. Medications can be used to control nerve inflammation and other symptoms,
reduce the rate of relapse, or modify the progression of the disease.
Depending on the type of medication you receive, it may be administered
orally, injected into your muscle, or given through an IV.
Physical or occupational therapy. Physical therapy can help people with MS to maintain as much mobility,
strength, and flexibility as possible. Occupational therapy can help people
with MS learn to use assistive devices that help them perform daily tasks.
Lifestyle changes. Lifestyle modifications — such as getting plenty of sleep, exercising,
avoiding high temperatures, reducing stress, and eating a balanced diet
— can help control symptoms in some people with MS.