Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells within the central nervous system, such as the brain and spinal cord. MS patients suffer from an attack by the immune system on cells in the myelin, the protective sheath that covers nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
When the myelin sheath is damaged, it disrupts nerve signals from your brain to various parts of your body. While it’s 2 to 3 times more frequent in women than men, it affects individuals in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, although it can start at any age, as well as being responsible for most disabilities in younger adults.
Types Of Multiple Sclerosis
The following are the types of multiple sclerosis:
- Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS): When an individual experiences their first episode of MS symptoms, healthcare providers often label it as CIS. Note that everyone with CIS will not develop multiple sclerosis.
- Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS): This is the most prevalent type of multiple sclerosis. Those with RRMS experience flare-ups, also known as relapse or exacerbation of new or worsening symptoms, followed by periods of remission (when symptoms stabilize or subside).
- Primary progressive MS (PPMS): Individuals with PPMS have symptoms that slowly and gradually worsen without any periods of relapse or remission.
- Secondary progressive MS (SPMS): Most times, those with RRMS eventually transition to SPMS, which increases nerve damage and worsens the symptoms. There may still be relapses or flares (when symptoms improve), but there are no periods of remission afterward (when symptoms stabilize or subside).
What Are The Causes Of Multiple Sclerosis?
Some of the factors that cause MS include:
- Genes: While MS isn’t directly inherited, it can affect individuals related to someone with the condition—approximately 2 to 3 in 100 siblings or children of someone who can develop MS.
- Insufficient sunlight and vitamin D: MS is more prevalent in countries far from the equator. Therefore, inadequate sunlight and low vitamin D levels may result in the condition. However, it’s uncertain whether vitamin D supplements can help prevent MS.
- Smoking: Smokers are about twice as likely to have MS, unlike nonsmokers.
- Teenage obesity: obese individuals during their teenage years are highly prone to developing MS.
- Viral infections: Infections, mainly stemming from the Epstein-Barr virus (responsible for glandular fever), might stimulate the immune system, resulting in MS in some individuals.
- Gender: There is a greater possibility of women developing MS than men; the reason for this is uncertain.
Vision problems like optic neuritis (blurriness and pain in one eye) are usually among the initial signs of multiple sclerosis. There are also symptoms like changes in gait, fatigue, loss of balance or coordination, muscle spasms, muscle weakness, and tingling or numbness, particularly in your legs or arms.
Diagnosis Of Multiple Sclerosis
A single test cannot offer a conclusive MS diagnosis. Your healthcare provider will conduct a physical exam to understand the reason for the symptoms. Then blood tests and imaging tests, such as MRI (to detect evidence of lesions (areas of damage) in the brain or spinal cord that reveal multiple sclerosis), will be conducted.
Lesions occur due to damage to the myelin sheath covering the nerves. There may also be a spinal tap (lumbar puncture). If these tests don’t yield a conclusive result, your neurologist may suggest an evoked potential test. This test inspects your nerve function by measuring electrical activity in the brain and spinal cord.
Treatment Options For Multiple Sclerosis
Although there is no cure for MS, treatment involves managing symptoms, limiting relapses (periods when symptoms worsen), and reducing the disease’s progression. The following are the treatment options available:
- Disease-modifying therapies (DMTs): The FDA has approved the majority of medications for long-term MS treatment. These drugs limit relapses, reduce the disease’s progression, and stop new lesions from developing on the brain and spinal cord.
- Relapse management medications: If you are experiencing a severe attack, your neurologist may prescribe a high dose of corticosteroids, immediately lowering inflammation. They reduce damage to the myelin sheath covering your nerve cells.
- Physical rehabilitation: Multiple sclerosis can harm your physical function, so be physically fit and robust to preserve your mobility.
- Mental health counseling: Managing a chronic condition can be emotionally challenging. Moreover, MS can negatively affect your mood and memory. Collaborating with a neuropsychologist or receiving other emotional support will significantly help to manage the disease.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that can harm the central nervous system. Its causes include genetic and environmental factors. There are several types of MS, and while there is no cure, treatments such as disease-modifying therapies, mental health counseling, physical rehabilitation, etc. can help manage symptoms.