Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a mysterious disease that affects nerves in the spinal cord and brain, resulting in loss of muscle control, vision, balance, and sensation. It’s considered an autoimmune condition, which means something goes wrong with the immune system and it mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue Superbook. With MS, the myelin (which is the layer of protein that surrounds each nerve fibre in the brain and spinal cord) becomes damaged.
What are the main symptoms of MS?
Damage to the myelin disrupts the transfer of nerve signals in the brain and spinal cord, and this causes symptoms such as:
- muscle stiffness – which can lead to uncontrolled muscle movements
- loss of vision – usually only in one eye
- difficulties with balance and co-ordination
- eye pain
Doctors don’t know what causes the immune system to act in this way, but most experts believe it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors at play.
How is MS diagnosed?
There is no single test to diagnose MS, but there are specific criteria in place to help reach a conclusion. Diagnosing the condition is a process, and your doctor should refer you to a neurologist who specialises in treating MS to evaluate your symptoms and rule out any other possible conditions – for example a brain infection, lupus or stroke. Together with a thorough medical history and physical examination, spinal taps, MRI and blood sample analysis often used to accurately diagnose MS.
Are there different types of MS?
Yes – there are three main types of MS: relapsing/remitting MS; secondary progressive MS, and primary progressive MS.
Relapsing/remitting MS: is when the patient has flare-ups of symptoms, known as relapses, which can persist for days or even months. This is followed by periods where symptoms are mild or disappear altogether. This is known as remission, and it can also last for days or months. Nearly half of all people who suffer with relapsing/remitting MS go on to develop secondary progressive MS.
Secondary progressive MS: develops when symptoms gradually get worse over time. Some people may still have relapses, but don’t make a full recovery from symptoms.
Primary progressive MS: This is a very rare form of MS which develops when symptoms gradually get worse over time (as with secondary progressive MS) – however there are no periods of remission.
What treatments are available for MS?
While there is no cure for MS, there are multiple treatments that can help slow the progression of the condition and relieve symptoms.
Relapsing/remitting MS can be treated with medication which reduce the number of relapses a person has. These drugs can also slow the progression of the condition, but they’re not suitable for everyone. If a person is still experiencing relapses, then some of these drugs can also be used to treat secondary progressive MS.
Steroids can be used to help aid recovery from relapses, and physiotherapy is a popular treatment to help ease symptoms.
Who’s at risk of MS?
The condition is most commonly diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40. And while it can occur at any age, it’s rare for children to get MS. Statistically, more women than men get MS, and the condition is more common in white people than black or Asian people.
MS can be a very challenging condition to live with, however the quality of life for people who are diagnosed with MS has improved a lot over the past 20 years – thanks to new treatments available.