Multiple sclerosis (MS) is considered an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. In MS, the immune system attacks the protective lining (myelin) that covers nerve fibers. Myelin can be compared to the insulation coating on electrical wires. When the protective myelin is damaged and nerve fiber is exposed, the messages that travel along that nerve may be slowed or blocked which affects the ability of the brain to correctly communicate with the rest of the body. The amount of myelin deterioration can vary in intensity and quantity from person to person. Eventually, the disease can cause the nerves themselves to deteriorate or become permanently damaged.
Because the amount and location of deterioration varies, the signs and symptoms of MS can vary widely and at times makes it difficult to diagnose. In many cases the first symptoms of MS occur between the ages of 20 and 40. For most people the first symptom they experience is related to their vision, with blurred or double vision, red-green color distortion, or even blindness in one eye. Around half of all people with MS experience different types of cognitive impairments such as trouble with concentration, attention, memory, and poor judgment. Unfortunately, because these symptoms are usually mild they are often overlooked. As the disease progresses in severity patients may lose the ability to walk independently or at all. On the positive side, some MS patients experience long periods of remission without any new symptoms. Following is a list of the type of symptoms patients with MS experience.
- Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs that typically occurs on one side of your body at a time, or the legs and trunk
- Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at time, often with pain during eye movement
- Prolonged double vision
- Tingling or pain in parts of your body
- Electric-shock sensations that occur with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward
- Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
- Slurred speech
- Problems with bowel and bladder function
It is no yet known what causes MS and it isn’t clear why MS develops in some people and not others. What is known so far is a combination of genetics and environmental factors appears to be responsible.
Although there is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis, treatments are available that can help the recovery from attacks, change the course of the disease and manage symptoms.
Even though the cause is unknown, research has shown the following factors may increase your risk of developing multiple sclerosis:
Age: MS can occur at any age, but most commonly affects people between the ages of 15 and 60.
Gender: Women are about twice as likely as men are to develop MS.
Family history: If one of your parents or siblings has had MS, you are at higher risk of developing the disease.
Certain infections: A variety of viruses have been linked to MS, including Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis.
Race: Caucasian, particularly those of Northern European descent, are at highest risk of developing MS. People of Asian, African or Native American descent have the lowest risk.
Climate: MS is far more common in countries with temperate climates, including Canada, the northern United States, New Zealand, southeastern Australia and Europe.
Certain autoimmune diseases: You have a slightly higher risk of developing MS if you have thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease.
Smoking: Smokers who experience an initial event of symptoms that may signal MS are more likely than nonsmokers to develop a second event that confirms relapsing-remitting MS.
How is MS diagnosed?
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) currently offers the most sensitive non-invasive way of imaging the brain, spinal cord, or other areas of the body. It is currently the preferred imaging method in helping to establish a diagnosis of MS as well as monitor the course of the disease. MRI has made it possible to visualize and understand much more about the underlying pathology of the disease.
Right now there is not one specific test that alone can determine if a person has MS. Several strategies are used to decide if one meets the criteria for a diagnosis, which include ruling out other possible causes of the symptoms a person is experiencing. These strategies include a careful medical history, a neurologic exam and various tests including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), evoked potential tests (measurement of the nervous system response to electrical stimulus), and spinal fluid analysis.
What can you expect with an Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis?
There is encouraging news. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) reports that the majority of MS patients will experience a normal (or almost normal) life span. The report goes on to say that what causes death in an MS patient is the same as those without the disease.
The prognosis for longevity is good except in cases of severe MS, which are rare. However, MS patients have to deal with other issues that can affect their quality of life. MS symptoms can cause pain, discomfort, and inconvenience, even though most patients will never become severely disabled.
Good news about physical therapy and MS
Regular exercise helps with all types of MS. Physical therapy can ease many of MS symptoms and help patients get around better. PT can help with things like balance issues, body movement, pain, and weakness. Your physical therapist can also help you come up with a fitness program tailored to increase your strength and meet your individual goals.
OSR is here to help. Our specialized team of doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, and rehab specialists will work together to help you manage your symptoms and assist in your physical health goals.