Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive neurologic disease that involves the brain and spinal cord.
It has no known cause and no known cure. It may begin as a young adult and then last for a lifetime, with symptoms that come and go. It appears that about one million Americans are being treated for MS. Although most patients live a nearly normal length of life, they need close medical attention during their whole lifetime.
It is not understood why people get MS, so there is no clue that would help the patient or doctor know to suspect it. There is no easy blood test to make the diagnosis. The symptoms may be vague, and they often come and go. Symptoms may include double vision (or other visual symptoms), pain (especially around the eyes), fatigue and poor coordination.
Difficulty with the muscles may include cramping, trouble walking, paralysis, stiffness, and weakness. These symptoms may come and go over years, over a lifetime. Urinary symptoms are common. Symptoms may include paralysis of the legs, bladder or sexual problems, mental problems such as depression, or seizures. There are times when it worsens and then it may stay steady for years.
Making the diagnosis may be difficult. Blood tests will eliminate some other diseases like Lyme disease. Eye doctors may help if the symptoms are visual, like double vision. MRI test is usually used to make the initial diagnosis of MS. If the patient’s symptoms are suggestive of MS, that test will be ordered.
Demyelination is damage to the myelin sheaths of the nervous system. It can be recognized on MRI. Also, other diseases which may mimic MS may be found with this test. Other tests may help make the diagnosis or may show the progress of the disease, over time.
Treatment of MS is complex. It is especially important, early in the disease, to avoid permanent damage due to the disease. Historically, steroids were first used to reduce inflammation. They still may be used, but there are now a myriad of medications that specialists might prescribe.
Some are oral and some need to be injected. The patient, their family members, and the doctors must all work together to make sure medicine is appropriate. There are some side effects involved, and the doctors who specialize in MS are knowledgeable about that. Appointments should not be missed.
Little is known about why people develop MS. It is an auto-immune disease, which means the person’s immune system attacks its own tissue. In this case, it is the lining of the nerve cells, which is called myelin. It often begins in the 20s, and persists for the rest of ones life. There are some genetic components involved.
The disease causes a life-long series of difficulties. Anyone with MS needs to visit a specialist who is an expert, so that they will get up-to-date advice and treatment.
The patient will also want to have a primary doctor, who will deal with other issues. The family needs to be patient since this disease goes through various phases. The mental effects can be disturbing to anyone around the patient.