Diseases & Conditions

What you need to know about multiple sclerosis

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 define multiple sclerosis

Usually, the body’s immune system is ready to defend your body against anything foreign that can cause illness.

But if a person is dealing with multiple sclerosis, better known by the initials MS, then that same immune system will actually damage and destroy the protective insulation that surrounds the body’s nerve cells in the brain and down the spinal cord.

This deterioration eventually leads to having issues with bodily functions, motor skills and other physical issues because the brain’s communication with the nerves throughout the body is disrupted.

This attack on the nerves is done in a number of different forms and will lead to permanent damage that is often impossible to be able to heal.

The name comes from the term sclerae, which is more commonly what plaque and lesions are named. That sclerae is the damage looks a lot like scars along the white matter of both the brain and the spinal cord.

It is a very common condition for people when compared to other autoimmune disorders – a term for whenever the body’s immune system attacks anything in the body that is actually supposed to be there, whether it is the membranes of certain organs or the protective layer around nerve cells.

Discovered in the late 1860s by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, more than two million people throughout the world will actually be officially diagnosed with MS.

The condition can occur at any time between age 20 and age 50, with women more than twice as likely to develop MS as men.

There are four different types of MS:

Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS)

This is where the attacks progressively worsen within the ability to mentally function, with a number of episodes that are followed up by small periods of remission where the symptoms will improve either partially or completely. This is usually the type of MS that most people are first diagnosed with.

Secondary-progressive MS (SPMS)

The next step from the RRM is when the attacks are becoming more consistent and can happen either with our without an episode.

Primary-progressive MS (PPMS)

The inability to function mentally starts to get a lot worse and this will develop more over time and can often include small improvements in between episodes. There is quite a minority of MS patients given this diagnosis – about 10 percent to be exact.

Progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS)

The least likely of the four types that people will have, which is when attacks grow more progressively and may have limited to no recovery after each episode and will continue to worsen without allowing the body any remission to have any chance to recover.

Symptoms of MS

The earliest symptoms of MS usually start to show up between the age of 20 and 40 and they will improve before returning before another episode or attack.

There are some that will come and go before and after, or there will be some that just stick around for a longer period of time.

It will be important to keep a journal of these symptoms so that you report to your doctor to get a more accurate diagnosis – whether it is determining which type of MS you have or if it is another condition.

Early MS signs include having a vision that is either blurry or doubles up, which can go together with losing your ability to balance yourself and not having the same coordinator.

There are also people with MS who are found to have problems being able to think clearly or feeling numbing, tingly or weakening sensations in different parts of the body.

As MS continues to develop within a person, they may progressively feel as if there are sharp objects – i.e. pins, needles – that can cause the above mentioned sensations plus burning, tearing or stabbing.

Another common sign of having MS is feeling either dizziness or the condition vertigo, where you might feel like everything in your surroundings is spinning around you. This can also lead to having a difficulty in walking.

There are also a large majority of MS patients who will find that they have to urinate at a much more frequent rate than before, or they might have trouble with urinating.

In addition to the bladder issues, there might be a number of bowel issues that pop up, like constipation. Many MS patients have also found that they are fatigued a lot easier, both physically and mentally, a lot faster – no matter how much sleep or rest they get every night.

Despite the millions of people in the world who are diagnosed with some form of MS, no two cases have the exact same signs and symptoms – just like no two snowflakes are 100 percent alike.

That’s because some of these symptoms can last for a few weeks or months while others can last for an entire lifetime.

How to diagnose MS

One of the first things a doctor must do before making the diagnosis official is look for any type of evidence of the telltale damage on the brain, spinal cord or the various nerves that are all part of the central nervous system.

This damage must show proof that it is at least one month apart. The doctors also have to make sure they have explored all other possible conditions that feature the same type of signs and symptoms.

What’s interesting is that a doctor will have the patient go through a number of tests that can judge a person’s mental and physical functionality, as well as their emotional state of mind – and this testing may also include evaluating a person’s overall medical history, as well as a neurological examination in an effort to cover all of the bases.

At the same time, there are a number of additional tests that are done in the event to seek more evidence in support of a MS diagnosis.

 define multiple sclerosis

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

This is one of the least invasive ways for a physician to be able to get a good look at your central nervous system without any type of surgery.

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)

This clear liquid is what the brain and spinal cord have surrounding the as a way of providing a cushion within the skull. MS patients usually have elevated amounts of antibodies.

Evokes potentials (EP)

These tests look at how much electric activity there is when your brain is sending a response signal and whether it has been slowed down due to the condition known as demyelination.

The various treatment options for MS

The first thing you need to understand about having MS is that there has yet to be a cure found, even though this disease has been known for more than 150 years.

While scientists are still looking for what could be a more permanent solution to MS, there have been a number of treatments developed in an effort to finding a way to slow down how often the symptoms pop up so that patients can better handle the condition.

For episodes:

Corticosteroids

These prescriptions are designed to help bring down some of the swelling within the nerves. While this can help alleviate some pain, there are some negative side effects that include an inability to sleep, a rise in blood pressure, changes in mood and retaining more blood.

Plasmapheresis

Also known as a plasma exchange, this will actually remove the liquid portion of your blood while the remaining blood cells are combined with proteins before being injected back into the bloodstream. This is usually done if the prescription above is not providing the desired results.

When it comes to the four different stages of MS, there are a number of treatments that have been developed by modern medicine regarding the symptoms that affect patients:

Beta interferons

This type of medication is actually one of the most common prescriptions written by doctors in an effort to help with this form of MS by injection through the skin or into the a specific muscle in an effort to quickly reduce or eliminate how often and how severe your episodes are.

Like many treatments, there are some side effects that include developing signs of the flu. This treatment does require having frequent blood tests to see if there is any potential liver damage or even seeing if the body is starting to develop antibodies that can neutralize what the medicine can do.

Copaxone

A more simple term for glatiramer acetate, this is one of several types of treatments that will make an effort to block the attacks on the myelin – the coating around the nerve cells.

Like the beta interferons, this requires injection through the skin and may lead to some form of irritation or reaction to where you inject the needle.

Dimethyl fumarate

Taken twice per day orally, this medicine is formulated to help decrease the number of MS episodes. This does lead to an increased chance of feeling flushed, having loose stools, nausea and a lowered amount of white blood cells in the body.

Fingolimod

In an effort to reduce how often you have an episode, this MS prescription will actually be taken once per day. It is important to make sure you have regular heart rate checks done every six hours since the heartbeat has been slowed after the initial dosage. One may also have an increased blood pressure, headaches and a distorted vision.

Teriflunomide

Similar to fingolimod, this is taken in an effort to decrease how often the episodes take place during the day. But the side effects can include having liver damage and losing hair. You should avoid taking this medicine if you are a woman carrying a child in pregnancy.

Natalizumab

Formulated to help prevent any cells from the immune system from traveling the bloodstream to the various parts of the central nervous system and causing damage.

It is often what is used primarily for those with a more severe version of MS and a secondary option for other forms. The negatives of this medicine have been known to cause an infection in the brain that can progress into a form of leukoencephalopathy.

Mitoxantrone

This type of drug is meant to suppress the effects of the immune system from attack the nerve cells, but it is extremely likely to cause damage to the heart as you continue to use this treatment option.

Because of this, only the most severe cases of MS are usually given this prescription by doctors and must include the patient being submitted into a special program for monitoring for the safety of the MS patient.

There are a number of treatment options that are used to help with the symptoms of MS:

Physical therapy

You can either meet with a skilled professional, which is highly recommended, or you can start learning the best types of stretching and strength-training exercises to do either at the gym or at home.

By going to a certified therapist, you will find that they have a number of machines and pieces of equipment that can help in making the therapy sessions easier so that you can learn to do essential daily tasks without too much adversity.

For those who are dealing with the leg issues – i.e. weakening sensations – you will find the therapy is beneficial when combined with using mobility aids at home.

Muscle relaxants

Because there are so many different types of sensations that the body’s muscles will have to endure during an episode – i.e. tingling, stabbing, and itching – these can help whenever a person is dealing with a spasm.

Additionally, there are a number of alternative and natural ways of treating MS, which is often preferred by many patients who are seeking relief to the pains and fatigue they are dealing with.

Similar to the benefits of physical therapy, many people want to use things like exercise to help naturally relieve the symptoms – just as much as using acupuncture, meditation or yoga, which have also been known for other conditions.

In fact, any form of natural relaxation activity is going to help you with the pains and aches associated with the MS episodes.

There have been a number of scientifically clinical trials have found that these can be sometimes more effective ways of managing the issues related to MS.

There have even been a number of studies from the American Academy of Neurology that medical marijuana taken orally is a way of naturally reliving those pains and muscle spasms. Other forms of this herbal treatment are still being studied.

In addition to this herb, other herbal supplements that have been found to work include Gingko biloba.

 define multiple sclerosis

The best ways to cope with MS

One of the best things you can do is to start doing some research and learn more about MS because that will allow you to know and understand what is happening inside your body – which can help alleviate some fears you might have.

You also need to make sure that the diagnosis is 100 percent certain and that your physician has done the proper types of testing to make sure there is no other condition causing your issues.

Part of learning and understanding everything about the MS condition is learning that the symptoms can happen at any time and anywhere.

That unpredictability can be a scary thought at first, but at least you can start learning to be prepared ahead of time so that you won’t be scared too much later on.

You will also want to make sure you start one of the above mentioned treatment options right away and stay on track without missing any appointments or sessions – otherwise you will have a progressively worse case of MS before you know it.

You will also want to make sure you are writing down a journal about your symptoms that pop up – the when and where, as well as what you were doing before the episode started.

Keeping track through this journal will actually allow you to be able to find out what might be a trigger, so that you can avoid doing the same things constantly so you have less of a chance of enduring an MS episode.

While there are a number of treatment methods, it might be best to remain looking more towards the alternative treatments that focus more on natural medicine and not as much on synthetic chemicals.

There have been a number of patients who have found that they find more relief from their aches and pains by using these methods more so.

The most important thing to remember is that you can never give up hope, because while there is no cure for MS yet, there is still a lot of scientific research that is focused on developing new and effective ways to help people.

At the moment, there are a number of treatments that are currently being reviewed through clinical trials and maybe one day, someone will have found an answer to MS.

Resources to consider

http://www.nationalmssociety.org/

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/

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