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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, degenerative disease that attacks the central nervous system, that is, the brain and spinal cord.
There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis, but treatments are available that can help manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Women are now consistently reported to have multiple sclerosis at higher rates than males, a finding that is common to many other autoimmune disorders. (1)
Causes and Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) doesn’t have a known origin. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues.
Due to this self-inflicted attack, the protective fatty substance (myelin sheath) that covers and shields the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord in multiple sclerosis is destroyed.
The myelin sheath is comparable to the insulating layer that covers electrical cables. The messages that go along that nerve fiber may be slowed down or inhibited when the protecting myelin is broken and the nerve fiber is exposed.
There is not only one specific cause behind multiple sclerosis but multiple criteria define multiple sclerosis, which means that two separate causes can lead to a single disease and, even if a specific cause is found behind multiple sclerosis, it may not exist in all cases of multiple sclerosis and might also be found in people who do not suffer from multiple sclerosis.
Why some people develop multiple sclerosis and others do not is unclear. It appears that a combination of hereditary and environmental variables is to blame. Some studies and reviews have postulated that childhood infections may be related to the onset of multiple sclerosis. (2)(3)
Symptoms vary according to the type of multiple sclerosis diagnosed. Early symptoms can include vision problems, tingling feelings, and trouble walking.
- In relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), the patient may suffer unpredictable acute attacks followed by periods of remission. During attacks, they may face learning and memory problems, tingling and numbness, exhaustion that comes and goes, problems with the digestive and urinary systems, stiffness, and visual impairments.
- In primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS), patients may suffer issues with walking, weakness, stiffness, shaking, trouble with balance, bowel and bladder issues, pain, and paralysis.
- In secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS), patients may exhibit deteriorating psychological health, increased weakness, digestive and urinary system issues, weariness, stiffness, and mental health issues, muscle imbalances, reduced bone density, and respiratory issues can all be brought on by inactivity. Bed sores can result from paralysis. Pneumonia can be brought on by difficulty swallowing and being confined to bed.
- In progressive relapsing multiple sclerosis (PRMS), in addition to sexual, digestive, and urinary system malfunction, nausea, and depression, there is also eye pain and double vision. Mostly psychological issues arise, such as disturbance in marriage and relationships, while lack of mobility leads to job loss. (4)
Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis has no known treatment options. The main goals of treatment for multiple sclerosis are to manage symptoms, limit the disease’s development, and hasten recovery after attacks. (4) Some persons only exhibit minor symptoms, necessitating minimal medical attention.
Treatment for multiple sclerosis attacks involves:
- Corticosteroids: To minimize nerve irritation and relapses, doctors often administer corticosteroids such as oral prednisone and intravenous methylprednisolone. Insomnia, elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, mood fluctuations, and fluid retention are possible side effects. (5)
- Exchange of plasma (plasmapheresis): Your blood is extracted, and the liquid plasma is separated from the blood cells. After being combined with albumin, a protein solution, the blood cells are then reintroduced into your body. If your symptoms are new, severe, and not improving after receiving steroid treatment, plasma exchange may be performed. (4)
Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis
Depending upon your medical history, your doctor may recommend several tests to arrive at a diagnosis. Some of these tests could include a complete blood picture, a spinal tap, and an MRI of your brain.
1. Blood tests
Blood tests are carried out to rule out other potential explanations for the different neurological complaints. To determine whether someone has multiple sclerosis, two conditions must be met:
- More than one location of myelin injury in the CNS must be present, and no other sickness must have contributed to it.
- At least a month must have passed between each of your two attacks. Any abrupt onset of multiple sclerosis symptoms is referred to as an attack. Alternatively, if any multiple sclerosis symptoms worsen for at least a day.
2. Neurological examinations
These examinations may test for:
- Coordination and movement
- Cognitive processing
- Emotional responses
All five senses functioning correctly (touch, hearing, sight, taste, and smell) (4)
Complications Associated With Multiple Sclerosis
Mild to severe problems can result from multiple sclerosis. They might include everything from weakness and lethargy to being unable to move. Loss of eyesight, balance issues, and impairment of bowel or bladder control are among other issues.
Similar to rheumatoid arthritis, depression can be brought on by the challenges of managing a chronic illness. (6)
While there is no definitive cause or treatment for multiple sclerosis, its symptoms and attacks can be managed with medication. Research continues to give new information about autoimmune diseases, and hopefully, multiple sclerosis will have a better treatment management option in the future.