Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is one of more than 100 autoimmune diseases. Among these disorders are type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, celiac disease, and many others. When you have an autoimmune condition, your immune system mistakenly assaults different parts of the body.
Multiple sclerosis is a nervous system disorder where nerve fiber coverings, called the myelin sheath, become damaged. This interrupts the information traveling to and from the brain. People with MS lose function in the brain and spinal cord and can develop issues with eyesight and muscular control. MS is a progressive, long-term disorder. Different people have a variety of experiences with the disease. Some people live quite well with it, encounter mild systems, and may never require treatment. However, many others have serious symptoms that force them to rethink their everyday lives.
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
The cause of multiple sclerosis is a mystery. Researchers believe MS happens for many reasons. Scientists are seeking answers in four distinct fields of study: Immunology, epidemiology, genetics, and infectious agents.
Studies show that MS may be related to a range of environmental causes. For example, more people with MS live in areas that are farther away from the equator. Researchers are studying everything from geography to age, gender, and ethnicity to see if any patterns emerge.
Other possible MS risk factors are low levels of Vitamin D, smoking, and obesity. The research community trusts that learning more about the causes of the disease will lead to improved treatments. Of course, the ultimate goal being a cure.
What are the Symptoms of MS?
Many common symptoms might indicate the early stages of multiple sclerosis. Keep in mind that none of these symptoms are unique to people with MS. Here are eight signs to look out for:
- Vision changes. With MS, the optic nerve is subject to inflammation which can interrupt central vision. Vision might become blurry. Double vision can also occur. Sometimes there is even a loss of vision. Compared to other symptoms, changes in eyesight may not occur initially.
- Sensations of tingling or numbness. Tingling and numbness are typical in early MS. This may happen in the arms or legs, the face, or on the fingers.
- Muscular pain and spasms. Ongoing pain, stiff muscles, and spasms happen frequently with MS. It is common to have these symptoms in the legs, although they can also occur on the back.
- Chronic fatigue and feelings of weakness. When someone experiences fatigue and weakness without an obvious cause, it could be an early sign of multiple sclerosis.
- Dizziness and challenges with balance. Symptoms of MS may include feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or a sense of vertigo. Balance problems may reduce mobility.
- Bladder symptoms. Urinating more often, an urgent need to urinate, or feeling a lack of voluntary control occurs often in people with MS. This often leads to a need for incontinence care.
- Sexual dysfunction. Because MS attacks the central nervous system, people with MS may encounter sexual dysfunction.
- Challenges with cognitive matters. Many people living with MS face cognitive issues. These can range from memory problems to short attention spans, trouble finding the right words to say, and trouble staying organized.
How is Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed?
MS can be tricky to diagnose because there are no standardized tests. For this reason, an MS diagnosis usually involves excluding other conditions that may create the same symptoms.
The process often begins with a detailed medical history and a thorough examination. The most common tool to rule out other conditions is to take a blood test. Other methods include a spinal tap, an MRI, or an evoked potential test. Evoked potential testing tracks electrical signals that are created by the central nervous system in response to various stimuli.
While there are several types of MS, the most common is relapsing-remitting MS. For people with this variety of the disease, the diagnosis is usually straightforward. On the other hand, when someone shows unusual symptoms, additional testing is often needed.
How is MS Treated?
While there is no cure at this time for multiple sclerosis, there are numerous long-term treatments. These protocols can help people with MS recover quicker from MS attacks. They may also slow down the disease’s progression, as well as manage the symptoms.
During an MS attack, common treatments include corticosteroids to calm inflamed nerves and plasma exchange for certain symptoms that don’t respond well to the steroid treatments.
For relapsing-remitting MS, treatment protocols include a variety of injectable and oral drugs. Physical therapy, muscle relaxants, and fatigue-reducing medications may also be helpful. There are drug treatments to help with walking issues, pain, insomnia, and other symptoms linked to multiple sclerosis.
How to Care for a Loved one with MS.
The day you discover that someone you love is going to be living with a chronic health condition for the rest of their lives is a day we hope we never have to face. Multiple sclerosis is a disease that often creates an uncertain future for people living with it. But with all that uncertainty, one thing IS certain: You want to support your loved one and help them enjoy the best possible life. Here are a few tips toward that end:
- Embrace the uncertainty. Life will be different, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be rich and fulfilling. The best way to encourage a meaningful life is to let things unfold as they come.
- Remember your loved one is still the same person. There is a tendency to feel sorry for the person who is living with MS. Don’t walk on eggshells! Treat your loved one like a mature, responsible, independent adult who has the judgment and willpower to make good decisions about their own care.
- Roll with the changes. Try not to be frustrated when things don’t go as you hoped they would. Your loved one will have ups and downs. There is an element of unpredictability and you can’t forget to cut yourself, and your loved one, some slack!
- Educate yourself. You can learn more about MS by reading and studying. However, perhaps the most valuable way to learn is by listening to your loved one talk about how they are feeling. You might also wish to use some valuable educational resources, such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society website.
- Making changes around the home. Think about your loved one’s living space and decide if making changes to the home to reduce fall risk might help. Consider consulting with an occupational therapist or a rehabilitation specialist. They can evaluate the home and make helpful suggestions.
- Ask how you can help. Everyday activities and chores ultimately become the largest challenge for those with MS. Offer to help with routine tasks like vacuuming or cleaning the kitchen counter. If they aren’t ready to accept help, that’s fine. What’s important is to make sure they know you are there for them – today, tomorrow, and always.