What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It causes problems with muscle control, balance, vision, and other functions. It affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.
In MS, the body’s immune system attacks the protective sheath around nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. This sheath is called myelin. When MS damages myelin, it cannot properly insulate the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord, which can cause problems with nerve impulses—how the brain sends messages through the body.
What are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary from person to person. The most common symptoms include:
- Tingling or numbness in the limbs
- Loss of balance, coordination, and strength
- Changes in sensation
- Impaired memory
- Tremors and muscle spasms in one part of the body that may spread to other parts (known as “spreading tremors”)
- Muscle weakness or paralysis
- Bladder problems, including urinary incontinence (inability to control urination) and bladder infections
- Fecal incontinence (inability to control bowel movements)
- Trouble swallowing food or liquids
- Vision problems, including double vision (diplopia) or blurred vision
- Sensitivity to heat, which makes symptoms worse
What are the Types of Multiple Sclerosis?
There are three main types of multiple sclerosis: relapsing-remitting, secondary progressive, and primary progressive.
- Relapsing-remitting MS is the most common form of the disease, and it’s characterized by periods of relapse (unpredictable attacks that can cause symptoms to worsen) followed by remission (when symptoms fade). This type is generally easier to manage than other types.
- Secondary progressive MS is less common than relapsing-remitting MS, but it’s more difficult to manage. With this form of MS, there are no remission periods; symptoms gradually worsen over time.
- Primary progressive MS is also less common than relapsing-remitting MS; however, it’s less manageable than secondary progressive MS because symptoms don’t get better or worse over time—they get worse as time goes on without any respite whatsoever.
What are the Tests Used to Diagnose MS?
Three main kinds of tests can be used to diagnose multiple sclerosis (MS):
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields and radio waves to make detailed pictures of the brain and spinal cord. It is often used with a special dye called gadolinium, which helps doctors see areas of inflammation in the brain or spinal cord that aren’t visible on an MRI alone.
- Evoked Potentials (EP) measure how well the brain responds to electrical signals sent from the eyes, ears, muscles, and nerves by using electrodes placed on the scalp. At the same time, they are shown a series of flashing lights or sounds.
- Electromyogram (EMG) measures the electrical activity in certain muscles at rest or being moved by the brain or spinal cord nerves.
- CSF Analysis – Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is the clear fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord. A lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap) is a procedure in which a small amount of CSF is removed from around the spinal cord using a needle. Analysis of CSF can help determine if there’s inflammation in the central nervous system (CNS).
- Blood Tests – These tests check for antibodies associated with MS or other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.
What are the Treatments Available for Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic and often disabling disease that involves the immune system and affects the central nervous system. There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis. However, treatments are available to help manage symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. The primary goal of treatment is to reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups (also known as “exacerbations”). Treatments may include:
- Disease-modifying drugs (also known as immunomodulatory drugs) can help reduce inflammation throughout the body. Still, they are not a cure for multiple sclerosis. They can be used alone or in combination with other therapies to manage symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
- Steroid medications are sometimes used to treat acute flare-ups or symptoms that are not controlled by other medications. These medications should only be taken under doctor supervision because they can cause serious side effects if not used correctly.
- Immune system suppressors may be prescribed if they have severe nerve damage from multiple sclerosis or have certain types of cancer associated with MS (such as lymphoma). These medications help control symptoms while reducing immune system activity.
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation play a crucial role in the management of MS.
Multiple Sclerosis and Pregnancy
Women with MS often experience flare-ups during pregnancy—sometimes even before they know they’re pregnant—though many women with MS can carry healthy pregnancies to term. Studies suggest that having MS does not increase the risk of pregnancy complications or miscarriage; however, it can cause the woman to experience short-term problems while pregnant. Before becoming pregnant, talk with a multiple sclerosis specialist about how best to manage the symptoms.
How to Reduce Flare-ups (Relapses)
In addition to disease-modifying therapies, which effectively reduce relapses, a healthy lifestyle is crucial. Eating a healthy balanced diet, quitting smoking, drinking plenty of water, and getting daily exercise to stay fit and active.
Patients with MS are advised to stay positive. Although not curative, available disease-modifying therapies can alter the negative impact of the disease. Most people with MS continue to have productive, active lives. Research is going on, and almost every year, a new MS drug is approved, giving hope to MS patients and their families. The expert Consultant Neurologist at Medeor Hospital, Dubai, have vast experience providing comprehensive care for MS patients.