There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, often called MS, but many people are able to manage their symptoms and adapt to new lifestyles after diagnosis.
The disease starts when a person's immune system attacks the nerve fibers that cover his body. These protective nerve sheaths are called myelin and facilitate the communication of nerves.
When the myelin is destroyed, it exposes the nerves, slowing the communication between these cells. The signs and symptoms are related to the extent of the damage. The researchers believe that the disease results from environmental and genetic factors, but the underlying cause is not known.
Who is affected by multiple sclerosis?
According to the National Library of Medicine, there are several risk factors associated with multiple sclerosis that can increase the risk in people.
It occurs more frequently in white women aged 20 to 40 years. Although several genes are thought to play a role in the risk of multiple sclerosis, the pattern of transmission is unknown.
However, other factors may be modified to potentially reduce risks, such as stopping smoking and obtaining adequate levels of vitamin D. Studies show that smokers are at risk of developing multiple sclerosis 1, 5 times higher than non-smokers.
What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?
When the disease ignites the optic nerve, a condition known as optic neuritis, can cause pain and loss of vision in the affected eye. This may be the first sign of multiple sclerosis or manifest later.
Other symptoms include double vision, lethargy, loss of bladder and bowel, muscle stiffness, numbness and weakness of the extremities and depression. Another symptom is called Lhermitte's sign, a pain similar to an electric shock felt when the neck is displaced.
How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?
Multiple sclerosis is often diagnosed by eliminating other conditions; doctors are then able to establish a differential diagnosis of the cause of symptoms. An essential tool to diagnose the disease is magnetic resonance imaging or MRI, in which doctors look for bright white dots indicating disease activitythe brain and the spinal cord. Doctors can also look into other related areas, such as the optic nerve. A lumbar puncture, or medullary puncture, can also be performed to look for abnormal proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid, called oligoclonal bands.
The diagnosis is confirmed if a patient has damaged myelin in at least two areas of the central nervous system and has had at least two relapses, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
What is the treatment for multiple sclerosis?
In case of acute worsening of symptoms, called exacerbation or relapse, steroids can treat the symptoms. Drugs known as disease-modifying drugs help reduce both the number and severity of recurrences.
Muscle relaxants are usually prescribed to treat the stiffness that sometimes accompanies multiple sclerosis. Patients are closely monitored for potential side effects of treatment, such as flu-like symptoms and injection site reactions.
The progression of the disease and the medical management differ from one patient to the other. Some people with multiple sclerosis may experience longer periods of remission or have no symptoms of illness; others may have a course of illness so severe that they lose the ability to walk without assistance.
While illness can change lives, physical therapy and aids like canes and walkers can enhance the ability to perform daily activities. There are also special considerations for preventing fatigue, including heat and excessive activity.
Multiple sclerosis can be fatal, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. However, most patients are slightly affected and life expectancy has improved in recent years.