MS (Multiple Sclerosis)

MS (Multiple Sclerosis)

MS is an inflammatory condition in which the protective sheath surrounding nerves cells in the brain and spinal cord become damaged. A wide variety of symptoms can present, with physical, mental and even psychiatric problems being reported. Diagnosing MS can be very hard, as it is more a case of ruling everything else out with tests, leaving only MS as a possible candidate.

Symptoms

Common symptoms include tingling and numbness in any part of the body, balance and mobility problems and frequent falls, blurred vision and muscle weakness and debility. Sufferers can get any or all of these issues and they can come and go, with patients able to live normal lives one day, then struck down with a plethora of problems the next. Nearly all sufferers experience periods of extreme tiredness or fatigue, with ninety percent reporting episodes. There can be problems with language, learning and problem solving, and sometimes depression or anxiety can present as MS takes hold.

Causes

The causes of MS are largely unknown, although it is believed to be triggered, partly due to hereditary factors, and also by outside stresses. The condition begins with the immune system mistaking the nerve cell sheath, which is made from a substance called myelin, for a harmful intruder and attacking it – this causes the inflammation. Once the inflammation clears up, scarring can be left behind. This scarring is called sclerosis and can sometimes even penetrate into the nerve cell itself.

MS is found in areas far from the equator, leading some to believe that access to plentiful sunshine can help ward off the condition. Others believe it is a virus which lies dormant for some of the time, re-awakening periodically, when the patient in undergoing a period of particular stress.

The latter goes some way to explaining the relapse-recover cycle experienced by many MS patients. However, the viral theory does not really explain the ten or fifteen percent of MS sufferers who experience a slow but steady increase in the appearance of symptoms, with no real periods of remission. This type of MS is usually diagnosed in older patients and is called Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis or PPMS.

Treatment

Treatments are largely based around coping with problems, and preparing patients for the almost inevitable decline in health that they will be facing. Support groups can be found in most areas, and being able to chat with people going through the same process can be very rewarding for patients. Access to the various MS drugs on the market can help patients ward off the progression of the disease for longer, enabling them to lead full and satisfying lives.

Medical professionals recommend that MS sufferers enjoy a full, nutritious diet and maintain a healthy weight. As the disease can present with mental and psychiatric signs, patients will need to be monitored regularly to ensure that they are getting all the care and best treatment available.

In summary:
  •  There are several types of MS and it can vary widely from patient to patient, probably due to the severity of nerve damage.
  • Sufferers are usually aged between 15 and 40 at diagnosis (average age at diagnosis is about 30)
  • It is estimated that 400 000 Americans suffer from MS