Multiple Sclerosis Facts
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease which affects the spinal cord and brain. An autoimmune disease is one in which the immune system begins to malfunction and attack normal healthy tissues, in this case, the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. As the body attacks the nerves, scar tissue is formed around them as part of the body’s natural healing process. This scar tissue, or sclerosis, then begins to build up and block the signals coming to and from the brain. Nerve impulses are what control basic motor functions such as talking and walking. It is this inability of the brain to send and receive these messages that causes the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, or MS.
Symptoms of MS are dependent upon the stage and degree of progression of the disease. Early symptoms generally include loss of balance, numbness, tingling, tremors, blurred or double vision and weakness in one or more limbs. Lack of coordination, sudden onset of paralysis, slurred speech and cognitive difficulties are among the less common symptoms of MS. As the disorder progresses and worsens, often so do the symptoms. Later stages of the disease may be accompanied by fatigue, muscle spasms, sensitivity to heat, sexual disturbances and changes in perception or thinking. Rarely, seizures and breathing problems may occur. The symptoms listed here are all in a category known as primary symptoms, dysfunctions caused directly by the lack of nerve impulses being transmitted to and from the brain. The medical field also recognizes secondary and tertiary symptoms. Secondary symptoms of MS are a byproduct or result of the primary symptoms. Tertiary symptoms are psychological, social, and vocational difficulties that arise as a result of the primary and secondary symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
To date, multiple sclerosis has no known cure. There are, however, treatments available that help relieve the symptoms of the disease and slow its progression. Basic treatment for MS is intended to modify the disease, thus slowing its effects. This is done through FDA-approved disease-modifying agents including Avonex, Betaseron, Copaxone, Extavia, Gilenya, Novantrone, Rebif and Tysabri. Once the appropriate medication is chosen, treatment becomes focused on management of symptoms. While symptoms of MS vary greatly from person to person, this generally consists of rehabilitation programs which focus on function. These can include physical, occupational and speech therapy, as well as cognitive and vocational rehabilitation. Alternative medicine can also play a significant role in increasing one’s sense of well-being while struggling with multiple sclerosis. These can include lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, herbal supplements, relaxation techniques, naturopathy and Chinese medicine, among others.
As with any disease, there are a few common misconceptions about MS. For example, the idea that multiple sclerosis is always a fatal disease. According to statistics, many people diagnosed and treated with MS live an average lifespan. Fatality is often a result of complications in very advanced stages of the disease. Another common myth is that everyone with MS ends up in a wheelchair. The truth is that mobility issues among patients with MS vary greatly among cases. Many are able to continue walking unassisted, while some need the help of a mobility aid. Diseases such as multiple sclerosis should be researched and every attempt to educate ones self should be made before assuming such statements as these, and others, to be true. For more detailed information regarding MS, talk to a qualified healthcare professional and do not attempt to diagnose by yourself.