What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that can potentially damage the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).
In multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Ultimately, the disease can cause permanent nerve damage or deterioration.
Signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary widely and depend on the amount of nerve damage and which nerves are affected. Some people with severe multiple sclerosis may lose the ability to walk partially or permanently, while others may experience long periods of remission without any new symptoms.
There is no complete cure for multiple sclerosis until now. However, treatments can help speed recovery from seizures, modify the course of the disease and treat symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary greatly from person to person and during the course of the disease, depending on where the affected nerve fibers are. Symptoms often affect movement, such as:
- Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs usually occurs on one side of your body at a time.
- Sensations like electric shock associated with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward.
- Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
Vision problems are also common, and this includes:
- Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at a time, and often accompanied by pain during eye movement.
- Long-term double vision
- Blurry vision
There is no known cause of multiple sclerosis. It is considered an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. In multiple sclerosis, this disruption of the immune system destroys the fatty substance (myelin) that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord.
The following factors may increase the risk of developing multiple sclerosis:
- Age. MS can affect people of all ages, but it mainly develops in people between the age of 20 and 40.
- Gender. Women have a three times higher risk of developing MS than men.
- Family History. Your are at a higher risk of developing this condition if one of your parents or siblings has it.
- Vitamin D. there is a correlation between low vitamin D levels and the risk of developing MS.
- Autoimmune diseases. You are at a higher risk of developing MS if you have other autoimmune disease, such as thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease.
- Muscle stiffness or spasms
- Paralysis, usually in the legs
- Bladder, bowel, and sexual function disorders
- Mental changes
There are no specific tests to detect MS. Diagnosis is mainly based on excluding other conditions that share the same signs and symptoms (differential diagnosis).
Our neurologist will conduct a physical exam and review your medical history. After that. They may recommend the following tests:
- Blood tests, to help rule out other diseases with symptoms similar to MS.
- Lumbar puncture, in which a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid is extracted from your spinal canal for laboratory analysis. This sample can show unusual changes in antibodies associated with multiple sclerosis. This may also help rule out infections and other conditions with symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which can reveal areas of multiple sclerosis (lesions) in the brain and spinal cord.
- Evoked potential tests, which are tests that record electrical signals produced by your nervous system in response to stimuli. In these tests, you see a moving visual pattern or short electrical impulses directed at the nerves in your legs or arms. Electrodes measure how fast information travels into your nerve pathways.
How is multiple sclerosis treated?
There is no cure for MS. Treatment usually focuses on speeding recovery from seizures, slowing disease progression, and managing symptoms of MS. Some people have so mild symptoms that no treatment is necessary.
- Corticosteroids, such as prednisone taken orally, and methylprednisolone given intravenously are prescribed to reduce nerve inflammation.
- Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis). The liquid portion of part of your blood (plasma) is removed and separated from your blood cells. Then, your blood cells are mixed with a protein solution (albumin) and returned to your body. Plasma exchange may be used if your symptoms are new, severe, and you have not responded to steroids.