Spinal cord lesions involved with multiple sclerosis tend to affect the lower extremities while brain lesions tend to affect upper body areas such as arms and eyes. The spinal cord is involved in approximately 90 percent of those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at some point.
Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating and often unpredictable disease. It is an autoimmune illness in which the body attacks the sheaths that cover the nerves. No two people with multiple sclerosis have the exact same symptoms.
The initial diagnosis for multiple sclerosis often is made through an MRI of the brain and a spinal tap, which will show abnormal levels of white blood cell counts and proteins. Lesions or white areas on the MRI coupled with the spinal tap will determine the diagnosis. Most people who are suspected of having multiple sclerosis will not have a spinal MRI until later in their treatment. The brain scan is the focus of the initial diagnosis.
Treatment options for spinal lesions in multiple sclerosis are the same as it is for those with only brain lesions. There are four FDA approved multiple sclerosis drugs:
Tysabri: Once-per-month infusion. Betaseron: Interferon beta-1b is injected under the skin every other day. Copaxone: Once-per-day injection under the skin. Avonex: Once-per-week muscular injection.
Roughly 35 percent of those with multiple sclerosis will only have spinal symptoms. Spinal lesions have a unique set of symptoms, which include:
Upper spinal or neck lesions can cause numbness or weakness in the arms. Mid-spinal lesions can cause a numbing band around the mid-section often referred to as the “MS Hug.” Lower spinal lesions can cause an array of issues including balance and walking difficulties as well as loss of bowel and bladder functions (Resource 2).
People who suffer from spinal multiple sclerosis will normally need to use a walking aid such as a cane or walker. There is also the possibility of having to use a wheelchair when walking long distances is required.
Annette Funicello, Alan Osmond and Montel Williams all suffer from multiple sclerosis.
Any changes in symptoms after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis should be discussed with a neurologist. An MRI should be performed once per year to track the progression of the disease.