Multiple Sclerosis: All You Need to Know

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Update Date 22/09/2020 . 6 mins read
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What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a condition that affects a person’s brain and spinal cord, and the symptoms vary depending on how severe the condition is. In most cases, multiple sclerosis treatment is necessary to manage the symptoms.

For people with multiple sclerosis or MS, their immune system attacks the nerves in the brain or spinal cord. In particular, the protective layer of the nerves called the myelin sheath. This makes it difficult for the brain and spine to communicate with the rest of the body and can cause problems with vision, movement, and other functions.

Multiple sclerosis usually gets diagnosed when a person is in their 20s or 30s, and is considered one of the most common causes of disability in young adults.

How common is multiple sclerosis?

Based on recent statistics, an estimated 2.3 million people worldwide or roughly 0.03% of the global population have MS. While this might seem like a small number, it is possible that some people with MS go undiagnosed, especially those with milder symptoms.

Additionally, women seem to be more at risk of developing MS compared to men. There are about two to three times more women with MS than men. However, scientists are still not sure why this is the case.

What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?

The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary depending on how severe a person’s condition is. The common symptoms usually include:

  • Fatigue
  • Numbness or a tingling sensation
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Sexual problems; specifically erectile dysfunction in men
  • Pain and itchiness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Involuntary muscle spasms
  • Vision problems
  • Bladder and bowel problems 

Multiple sclerosis can also cause symptoms that are more uncommon. These include:

  • Speech problems such as slurring
  • Tremors or uncontrollable shaking
  • Seizures
  • Hearing loss
  • Breathing problems
  • Difficulty swallowing

When should I see my doctor?

If you experience any of the symptoms above, it would be a good idea to visit your doctor to find out if you might have MS. For people with MS, early diagnosis and treatment mean more positive outcomes.

Causes and Risk Factors

Much like other autoimmune diseases, the specific cause of multiple sclerosis is still unknown. However, it is believed that genetics or environmental factors may play a role in the development of MS. This is also the reason why multiple sclerosis treatment does not cure the illness directly; it helps manage the symptoms.

Multiple sclerosis can manifest in one of two ways.

Relapsing Remitting MS

The first and most common is called Relapsing Remitting MS. People with this type of MS usually experience the symptoms over a few days, weeks, or even months. Then the symptoms suddenly stop.

In some cases, the symptoms can relapse. In others, these stop completely. It can sometimes take years for another attack to occur, and it is possible for the disease to progress to what is called Secondary Progressive MS. People with Secondary MS usually experience progressive symptoms, and these can worsen over time.

Primary Progressive MS

The second type is known as Primary Progressive MS. Unlike Relapsing Remitting MS, Primary Progressive MS does not start and stop suddenly. People with this type of MS suffer from worsening symptoms. However, there are cases wherein the symptoms seem to stabilize over time. Multiple sclerosis treatment for this type of MS requires stronger drugs because the symptoms can get much worse in a shorter amount of time.

Around 8 out of 10 people with MS have Relapsing Remitting MS, while 1 out of 10 have primary progressive MS.

What are the risk factors for multiple sclerosis?

Here are some of the possible risk factors for multiple sclerosis:

  • Sex. Women are more prone to having MS compared to men.
  • Family history. If your parents or one of your siblings has MS, you have an increased risk of developing the disease.
  • Age. MS usually manifests at a young age, but it can occur between the ages of 16-55.
  • Climate. This could also play a role, as countries in more temperate climates have higher rates of MS.
  • Low levels of vitamin D as well as exposure to sunlight may also contribute to the risk of MS.
  • Thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease can increase a person’s risk for multiple sclerosis.
  • Smokers also have an increased risk of MS. In particular, smokers who experience milder symptoms of MS have a higher possibility of developing worse symptoms compared to non-smokers.

Diagnosis

The symptoms of MS can be difficult to pinpoint since other medical conditions can also cause the symptoms of MS. There is also no single test that can determine if a person has MS. What typically happens is that your doctor first rules out any other condition before giving a diagnosis.

Tests for MS

The most effective way to diagnose MS would be to conduct several tests. Here are some of the tests to check for MS:

  • Your doctor may ask you to take an MRI scan so that they can see if there is any damage to the myelin sheath of your nerves.
  • A neurologist may test your reflexes, vision, eye movement, hand and leg strength, to see if there might be some nerve damage.
  • A test called an evoked potential test is used to check the nerves in your eyes. It checks your brainwave patterns while you look at different patterns.
  • A lumbar puncture may also be used to test for MS. In a lumbar puncture, a sample of your spinal fluid is taken to check if your spine has been damaged.

Based on the results of these tests, your doctor can properly diagnose your condition. Afterward, they can provide you with options for multiple sclerosis treatment.

Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult your doctor for more information.

Multiple sclerosis treatment can vary depending on what type of MS a person has, the severity of their condition, as well as the symptoms that they experience. It is important to know that is no cure for MS. However, treatment can help mitigate the symptoms and give people with MS a chance at having a normal life.

Here are some of the multiple sclerosis treatments used to manage symptoms:

  • Corticosteroids may be prescribed by your doctor to help lessen the damage to your nerves. However, these can have side effects such as insomnia, high blood pressure, bloating or fluid retention, and sudden mood changes.
  • Plasma exchange is another form of multiple sclerosis treatment. In this process, the plasma is removed from your blood and replaced with another person’s plasma, or a plasma substitute. This usually helps prevent flare-ups or sudden MS attacks.

There are also treatments that can help slow down the progression of the disease. Here are some of the treatments available:

  • Injectable medications such as beta interferons or glatiramer acetate can help reduce relapses and the frequency of attacks. In the case of beta interferons, liver tests may be needed since this medication can cause liver damage as a possible side effect.
  • Oral medication such as fingolimod, dimethyl fumarate, teriflunomide, and siponimod can help reduce the relapse rate and slow progression of MS. Your doctor will prescribe any of these medications depending on the severity of your condition.

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy if you are having trouble moving daily tasks.

Lifestyle changes and home remedies

There are also some things that do not require medication that can help manage the effects of MS. Here are some of the things that you can do:

  • Get enough rest, at least 8 hours every night.
  • If possible, try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day to help maintain the strength of your muscles.
  • Try and keep your body cool and avoid getting too hot.
  • Eat a healthy diet and make sure to eat foods rich in vitamin D.
  • Relax and take some time to relieve stress. Stress can trigger relapses in MS, so it is best to avoid it.

If you have any questions, please consult your doctor. 

Prevention

In terms of prevention, there is currently no means to prevent multiple sclerosis. The best thing to do is to stay healthy and consult your doctor as soon as you notice any symptoms or changes in your body.

Key Takeaways

Researchers are still studying the possible causes of MS, how to prevent it, and what better methods for multiple sclerosis treatment can be developed.

At the moment, the best thing that sufferers can do is to closely monitor their symptoms, take their medication, and consult their doctor on how to best manage their condition.

Dealing with MS is not easy, and it can sometimes be disheartening especially for those experiencing more severe conditions. It is important to stay positive and focus on managing the disease one day at a time.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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