May is International Multiple Sclerosis Month. We have the answers to your top MS questions.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves. WebMD describes the complex medical condition in simple terms:
‘MS happens when your immune system attacks a fatty material called myelin, which wraps around your nerve fibres to protect them. Without this outer shell, your nerves become damaged. Scar tissue may form.’
What this means is that the nerves can’t do their important work of sending messages to the brain. Because of the effect MS has on the way the nerves work, the symptoms of MS are uncomfortable and even painful.
Symptoms of MS include:
- Pain (which often starts out as having no clear cause, and can leave doctors and patients alike feeling perplexed and dejected). Pain in MS is often localised to the back or eyes.
- Problems with focus, memory, and concentration (“fuzzy brain”), as well as headaches.
- Exhaustion (often mistaken for chronic fatigue, MS is sometimes the cause of a patient’s chronic fatigue diagnosis).
- Cramping, tingling, or numbness.
- Dizziness and/or poor coordination, stiff muscles.
- Vertigo and balance problems.
- Heat intolerance.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Blurred or double vision.
- Can result in loss of vision.
- Needing to urinate more than usual, especially at night; leaking urine.
Constipation and depression are also common MS symptoms. If you suspect you or someone you care about may have MS, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible and get a diagnosis so that you can start treatment.
MS Treatment Options
There is currently no cure for Multiple Sclerosis. Treatments focus on improving a patient’s quality of life, and slowing the progress of the disease.
MS Treatments fall into four categories:
In some cases, massage therapy is helpful to relieve muscle spasms. Some patients have reported positive results from acupuncture, too.
Support groups, both in your community and online, can be helpful sources of encouragement and inspiration. An example of an active online support group with an inspiring message of hope is Shift.MS. Members share stories and encouragement, ask their pressing MS questions and get answers, and participate in a community that understands what it’s like to battle an invisible illness. (Membership is free.)
Doctors typically prescribe steroids to reduce the duration and severity of attacks; muscle relaxants to ease spasms; tranquilisers to help with anxiety; and pain management medications such as anti-inflammatories for the pain.
Because the condition results when the immune system attacks the myelin sheaths of nerves, immunosuppressants are often used to slow the disease’s progression.
It’s important not to self-diagnose or self-medicate, as the use of these medications needs to be carefully monitored to ensure your safety.
Multiple Sclerosis is best managed with help and support. Physical therapists help with exercises that develop strength and balance. Regular exercise can also help boost energy, and physical therapists can help you develop an exercise plan that supports your body’s needs and limitations.
An occupational therapist will show you more efficient ways to do routine tasks with less pain and fatigue-inducing effort.
Counselling is often necessary to help patients deal with the depression, fatigue, and limited lifestyle caused by MS. Often, sufferers will not be able to do all the things they’ve always been able to do, and this can be very discouraging. Support is crucial, especially in the early stages of the disease, when the new limits are unfamiliar and very frustrating. A trained counsellor or psychologist can be very helpful in times like these.
While there is still a good deal of research to be done into the causes, there seems to be some connection between a busy, stressful lifestyle in which personal care is left until last – or neglected altogether – and the development of MS.
Healing can’t occur until this is addressed.
- Regular gentle exercise can help maintain strength and boost energy. Gentle walking, swimming, and yoga can all be effective in managing MS.
- Get enough rest. Rest is the body’s healing time, and now is the time to get all the healing rest you can. Rest is not just sleep: make sure you get your “me time” – a break from the stress and responsibility of your regular life.
- Ask for help. It’s okay. You’re allowed to ask for the help you need.
- Supplement: vitamins that boost energy and immunity, such as Vitamin D, B, and C, can all be helpful in managing your symptoms.
How do you get MS? Causes of Multiple Sclerosis
There is still a lot of research to be done in terms of identifying the cause or causes of Multiple Sclerosis. There seems to be a link between smoking and MS, according to WebMD. The article also states,
‘People with certain genes may have higher chances of getting it. Some people may get MS after they’ve had a viral infection – like the Epstein-Barr virus or the human herpesvirus 6 – that makes their immune system stop working normally. The infection may trigger the disease or cause relapses.’
Healthline.com explains the genetic link in more detail, showing that while there isn’t an identifiable genetic predisposition towards developing MS, ‘the general population only has 0.1 percent chance of developing MS. But the number jumps to 2.5 to 5 percent if you have a sibling or parent with MS.’
There isn’t a single test for Multiple Sclerosis. Physicians often use a process of elimination to determine the connecting factor in seemingly unrelated symptoms. For this reason, diagnosis includes:
- Neurological examination to check for nerve damage or dysfunction;
- Optical exams, to rule out eye diseases and disorders;
- Brain scans such as MRI to measure brain function;
- Sometimes even a spinal tap to check spinal fluid.
Multiple Sclerosis Prognosis
MS is not fatal, so sufferers usually have a similar lifespan to healthy members of the population. The earlier MS is detected, the better the outlook. Misdiagnosis can be frustrating as it delays treatment and management.
Quality of life depends on how soon the disease is diagnosed, and how well it is managed. It’s not uncommon for sufferers to rely on a cane for movement within 15 years of receiving a diagnosis. On the other hand, at 20 years following diagnosis, more than 60% of patients can still move about without too much assistance beyond that. (Read more here.)
An early diagnosis is key to a long and relatively comfortable life with MS (as with most things). If you have any of the symptoms we’ve discussed here, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor’s opinion and find out what’s making you feel unwell. Got questions? Our support team includes trained and qualified nurses, ready to help you with your health-related queries. Call us now on 0860 00 21 58 or drop us a line today, and we’ll get right back to you.