Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects your central nervous system. Your immune system becomes overactive, and nerve fibres that are essential for effective and accurate communication between your body and brain suffer irreversible damage. MS can't currently be cured, but there are treatments available that can help you manage symptoms and experience extended periods of remission. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for MS:
Causes and Symptoms
MS is an autoimmune disease, and as is the case with most autoimmune diseases, the exact cause of MS is not clear. It's believed genetic and environmental factors can contribute to the development of the disease, and if you have another autoimmune disease, such as lupus or inflammatory bowel disease, you are at an increased risk of developing MS. Additional risk factors include smoking and low levels of vitamin D.
Symptoms of MS can vary depending on the affected nerve fibres, but mobility and vision are often affected. You may experience numbness or weakness affecting the limbs on one side of your body, your gait may change, you may experience unpredictable tremors and you may struggle to coordinate movements. Blurred vision, eye pain and deterioration of your sight are common early symptoms. Additionally, you may experience fatigue, dizziness, weakened bowel or bladder control and slurred speech.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Multiple sclerosis tends to be diagnosed by ruling out other possible causes of your symptoms, and your doctor will carry out a thorough medical exam. Blood tests can be used to rule out other conditions, and an MRI scan will be carried out to determine if you have lesions on your brain and spinal cord, which are typically found in MS sufferers. You may also have to undergo a lumbar puncture, which involves having a small amount of spinal fluid extracted for analysis to determine if antibodies are present that are typically found in patients with MS.
The goal of treatment is to control symptoms and try to slow disease progression. Your neurologist may prescribe oral or injectable medication to block your immune system's attack on your nerve fibres. Corticosteroids can be used to reduce inflammation of affected nerves, while muscle relaxants and serotonin reuptake can be used to tackle gait problems and fatigue. There are also a few surgical options for treating MS, such as deep brain stimulation, which uses electrodes to prevent tremors. Rhizotomy is also an option, which involves the removal of a damaged section of the spinal nerve that can cause sufferers to experience chronic nerve pain.
When MS is diagnosed early, symptoms can be easier to keep under control. So, if you're experiencing any of the symptoms associated with MS, consult with a neurologist or neurosurgeon as soon as possible.