Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
The symptoms of MS vary from person to person, depending on the amount of nerve damage and the location of the nerves affected. In some cases, symptoms are subtle sensations which do not progress or worsen for months or years. In others, symptoms progress rapidly, within weeks or months. While some people would only show mild symptoms, others have severe symptoms that lead to disability and permanent lifestyle changes. However, in most cases, people experience times when symptoms worsen and then get better.
Here are the most common symptoms of MS:
- Weakness in the limbs and muscles
- Lack of coordination in movement
- Muscle stiffness and spasms
- Lhermitte's sign
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Blurry vision
- Partial or complete loss of vision
- Slurred speech
- Problems with bladder control
- Constipation and bowel problems
- Tingling or numbness in various parts of the body
- Learning and memory problems
- Sexual dysfunction
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
There are three types of Multiple Sclerosis:
Relapse-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS):
More than 80% of people with MS are diagnosed with this disease. In this type, people develop symptoms in the form of attacks that are followed by a period of recovery or remission. During recovery, symptoms may disappear partially or totally.
Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS):
This type of MS is less prevalent and occurs in about 15% of cases. In this type, symptoms worsen progressively with no noticeable relapses or remissions, although there might be minor relief from symptoms.
Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS):
This form of the disease is more prevalent than PPMS because most individuals with RRMS may develop SPMS if left untreated. In SPMS, people will have periods of relapses and remissions but then start to develop steady symptoms and deterioration in body function over time.
There are other rare variants of the disease, like Marburg variant MS (also called malignant MS) and Balo's concentric Sclerosis, among others.
Cause of Multiple Sclerosis
Scientists are yet to discover the exact cause of Multiple Sclerosis. It is an autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder is a situation whereby the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks a healthy part of the body. In the case of MS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath that protects the nerve fibres, causing inflammation and leaving scar tissues or Sclerosis. As a result, nerve fibres become damaged and do not allow the smooth flow of impulses from the brain to the target nerve.
The exact reason for this autoimmune disorder is yet to be known, but experts say that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is at play. However, some risks factors that may increase the risk of
developing Multiple Sclerosis include:
Age: the onset of MS is usually between the ages of 20 and 40. MS can occur at any age and affects both young and old, but people within this demography are more at risk.
Sex: The most form of MS is twice as likely to affect women than men
Family history: Having a parent or sibling with MS increases your risk of developing the disease.
Infections: certain viruses like Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or mononucleosis, human herpes virus type 6 and mycoplasma pneumonia may increase a person's risk of developing multiple Sclerosis.
Vitamin Deficiency: Having low levels of certain vitamins like Vitamin D and B12 have been linked with a higher risk of developing MS. Experts think that low levels of vitamin D may affect the way the immune system functions. Also, vitamin B12 is necessary for the production of myelin. A deficiency of this vitamin increases the risk of MS and other neurological diseases.
Diagnosis and Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis
Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis is complicated as it is not possible to confirm a diagnosis with one test or examination. Usually, a doctor will carry out physical and neurological examinations and use several strategies to determine whether a person meets the criteria for a diagnosis. A few of the tests conducted are:
- MRI scan of the brain and spinal cord to check for lesions
- Spinal tap analysis to examine the cerebrospinal fluid for the presence of proteins and inflammatory cells associated with the disease
- Evoked potential test to measure the accuracy and speed of the nervous system’s response to stimulation.
There is no cure for Multiple Sclerosis at the moment. All treatments of MS only try to reduce the severity of relapses, relieve symptoms and delay the progression of the disease. Some people have very mild symptoms and do not need treatment.
Common treatments for MS symptoms are:
- Physical therapy to combat leg weakness and gait problems
- Use of muscle relaxants for muscle stiffness and spasms
- Use of assistive devices to reduce shaking limbs
- Medication to reduce fatigue
- Medication to increase walking speed
- Medication to control bladder and bowel problems