Multiple sclerosis can be a debilitating disease. For most of us, especially those without a family history of the disease, our likelihood of developing MS is less than a tenth of 1 percent. But for those who struggle with the disease, the statistics mean nothing. Each day can be a battle, but also a blessing as symptoms can be managed. For those with MS, symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the nerves affected by the disease. In severe cases, MS can lead to the inability to walk or speak.
Although doctors and researchers aren't sure how multiple sclerosis occurs, they do know what causes the symptoms of MS, which is classified as an autoimmune disorder. This means the body's immune system actually attacks its own tissues. A substance called myelin protects and insulates the nerve fibers along the spinal cord and in the brain. MS causes the destruction of myelin, and because of this, the messages and signals that travel along the nerves may become obstructed or sluggish.
Signs and Symptoms
Because of the varying location of the nerve fibers affected by MS, symptoms can vary widely. Some common signs are numbness or weakness in one or more extremities, partial or complete loss of vision, double vision, tremors, lack of coordination, fatigue and dizziness. These symptoms can be worsened with an increase in body temperature and can come and go. Periods of relapse are typical, particularly in the early stages of the disease.
MS can cause other ailments as well. It can lead to muscle stiffness and spasms, paralysis, bladder control problems and forgetfulness. People with MS may also develop epilepsy and struggle with depression. It's important to keep your doctor apprised of any and all symptoms that develop so that complications can be treated as well.
Certain factors can increase your chances of developing multiple sclerosis, which surfaces in people ages 20 to 40, with women having twice the risk of men of developing MS. If one of your immediate relatives develops MS, your chances of getting the disease increase to between 1 percent and 3 percent.
Tests and Treatment
Like some other diseases, no specific test for multiple sclerosis exists. MS is diagnosed by ruling out the possibility of other diseases that may be causing your specific symptoms. Your doctor may do neurological testing as well as blood tests to help rule out infection or other causes. They can also perform a spinal tap to look for abnormal levels of white blood cells or proteins, both of which are abnormalities that may be associated with MS. Lesions, which can be caused by the loss of myelin, can sometimes be seen on an MRI. Treatment will be based on managing your symptoms because no cure for MS currently exists.