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Multiple Sclerosis: Symptoms and Treatment
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling brain and spinal cord disease. Symptoms of MS vary widely between patients and depend on the location and severity of nerve fiber damage in the central nervous system. Some people with severe MS may lose the ability to walk independently or ambulate. Other individuals may experience long periods of remission without any new symptoms depending on their MS type.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
In multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerve fibers.
These factors may increase your risk of developing multiple sclerosis:
Age. Multiple sclerosis can occur at any age, but onset usually occurs between 20 and 40. However, younger and older people can be affected.
Sex. Women are more than 2 to 3 times as likely as men to have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
Family history. If one of your parents or siblings has had MS, you are at higher risk of developing the disease.
Certain infections. Various viruses have been linked to MS, including Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis.
Vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels and low exposure to sunlight are associated with a greater risk of MS.
Obesity. An association between obesity and multiple sclerosis has been found in females. It is especially true for female childhood and adolescent obesity.
Certain autoimmune diseases. You have a slightly higher risk of developing MS if you have other autoimmune disorders such as thyroid disease, pernicious anemia, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, or inflammatory bowel disease.
Smoking.Smokers who experience an initial symptom that may signal MS are likelier than nonsmokers to develop a second event confirming relapsing-remitting MS.
What Are Its Symptoms?
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary widely from person to person and can affect any part of the body.
Numbness or tingling in different parts of the body
Muscle stiffness and spasms
Problems with balance and coordination
Problems with thinking, learning, and planning
Depending on your MS type, your symptoms may come and go in phases or get steadily worse over time.
What Is Its Treatment?
There are no specific tests for multiple sclerosis. Instead, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis often relies on ruling out other conditions that might produce similar symptoms, known as a differential diagnosis. Your doctor is likely to start with a thorough medical history and examination.
Your doctor may then recommend the following:
Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
Evoked potential tests
Diagnosing multiple sclerosis can be more difficult in people with unusual symptoms or progressive disease. Further testing with spinal fluid analysis, evoked potentials, and additional imaging may be needed in these cases.
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis. Treatment typically focuses on speeding recovery from attacks, reducing new radiographic and clinical relapses, slowing the progression of the disease, and managing the symptoms. Some people have such mild symptoms that no treatment is necessary.
Corticosteroids, such as oral prednisone and intravenous methylprednisolone, are prescribed to reduce nerve inflammation. Side effects may include insomnia, increased blood pressure, blood glucose levels, mood swings, and fluid retention.
Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis). The liquid portion of part of your blood (plasma) is removed and separated from your blood cells. The blood cells are then mixed with a protein solution (albumin) and returned to your body. Plasma exchange may be used if your symptoms are new and severe and you haven’t responded to steroids.
Medication that can be used for multiple sclerosis: