Facts About Multiple Sclerosis – And Why Knowing Matters
Across the world in 2020, statistics have shown that 2.8 million people have Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Other studies have also shown that 200 people are diagnosed with MS every week. MS can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or financial background¹.
MS is a possibly debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system – the brain and the spinal cord. As more and more people are affected by MS, it’s good to understand this disease and what to do if someone you know may be affected by it².
Multiple Sclerosis Early Warning Signs
According to the Mayo Clinic, MS is an autoimmune disease where the immune system damages the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is the protective layer that protects the nerves that are part of one’s nervous system. This can lead to issues with the nerves and may eventually lead to their deterioration³.
As of the moment, modern medicine does not have a cure for MS. Some treatments can help against attacks and manage any issues that can come after. MS has many early signs; they are as follows:
Blurred or Issues with Vision
Although blurred vision can signify aging or an inflamed optic, this is a ubiquitous early sign of MS. If the patient’s vision issues are caused by MS, they may be going through double vision (diplopia). This happens because the muscles in the eyes are not coordinating properly.
The Feeling of Pins and Needles
One might feel numbness in the following area: face, arms, legs, and fingers. The brain and the spinal cord are the body’s message centers. Once MS strikes these areas, coordination between the brain and limbs will be hard.
Fatigue associated with MS may affect how one lives one’s life. Even though a person may have rested or slept for 8-10 hours, they will still wake up exhausted. They may not be able to shake away this feeling; it will only get worse throughout the day. Heat and humidity exacerbate fatigue further.
Vertigo is very common for people with MS, as it decreases a person’s balance. Sufferers will feel very dizzy when they suddenly stand up, and they’ll feel the room spinning.
Sufferers from MS may experience needing to pee frequently, urge continence (constantly feeling like you need to pee urgently), recurrent UTIs, and needing to pee a lot at night.
Neuropathic pain is associated with short-circuiting nerves. Patients may report experiences like burning, squeezing, and stabbing sensations. The pain MS patients go through comes in two categories: Musculoskeletal pain and Neuropathic pain.
The most affected areas will be the joints, the back, and the neck. Most individuals will have issues moving and walking around. Any movement that involves putting pressure on the hips and lower back will result in pain.
Anyone suffering from neuropathic pain may experience the following: face feeling like it’s being stabbed, trunks, and limbs. Those with MS will be feeling sensations of pins and needles and squeezing in these areas. Issues with the nervous system cause this pain.
Issues with Speech and Swallowing
MS may affect the way people speak; sufferers may have problems with how they talk or find their way of speaking slurred. They’ll have dysphagia (problems with chewing and swallowing) and dysarthria (speech becoming slurred and hard to comprehend).
Causes for Multiple Sclerosis
Current medicine does not understand the cause of multiple sclerosis and why it affects more women than men. It’s been found that if one’s parents have suffered from MS, they might inherit it ⁴.
Here are other facts that may trigger MS:
- No exposure to sunlight and vitamin D
- Obesity during teenage years
- Viral infections (ex. Epstein-Barr virus)
Diagnosis for Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis may be hard to diagnose because it shares signs and symptoms with other diseases or conditions. Conditions like cerebral small vessel disease, fibromyalgia, and functional neurological disorders are just a few that has been mistaken to be MS⁵.
Doctors will have to use the following tests before they can diagnose patients with MS:
- Blood tests: Blood tests can’t detect MS, but they can rule out other conditions (ex. Lyme’s Disease, STD, etc.)
- Neurological examination: The neurological exam will test one’s mental ability, emotional condition, and coordination.
- MRI scan: MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging; it is ideal for diagnosing MS coupled with initial blood tests. It uses magnetic fields and radio waves to check the water content in the body’s tissues.
- Evoked potential test: Evoked Potential (EP) Test measures the electrical activity in the brain in the presence of stimulation. The stimuli are supposed to produce quick electrical signals measured by the electrodes placed on the scalp. Different EP tests will show activity in different areas of the brain. There are three types of EP tests:
- Visual evoked potentials (VEP): Patients will be asked to sit in front of a screen and observe the monitor for alternating checkerboard patterns.
- Brainstem auditory evoked potentials (BAEP): The patient will listen to auditory sounds, specifically a series of clicks in both ears.
- Somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEP): Brief electrical pulses will be presented to the legs and arms.
- Lumbar puncture: A lumbar puncture or a spinal tap is the process of removing a sample of the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to check whether they might have MS. It should be noted that there is a 5-10% that no abnormalities may appear in the CSF sample⁶.
Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis currently does not have a remedy. Treatment is usually reserved for management of the disease, accelerating recovery from attacks, and slowing the progression of MS. Some people may exhibit mild symptoms and may not even need assistance. Treatment usually depends on the patient’s symptoms and how bad their condition is.
Patients will be connected to multiple healthcare professionals who will help manage their MS. One of them will be a neurologist, a physiotherapist, and a nurse that specializes in MS. A speech and language therapist will be part of one’s healthcare team in cases where speech is affected.
Multiple sclerosis can indeed be taxing on the body and one’s mental health, but most people can live normal lives with MS. In some cases, MS may not be as debilitating to the body. In other cases, people will need therapy and different treatments to live their lives as normally as possible. Lifestyle changes will be introduced so flare-ups can be lessened and slow down the progression of MS.
Try to read as much research as you can, and make sure that they are as up-to-date as possible. With how fast technology is, the field of medicine may have new ways to treat MS in the possible future. Even though you honed in on a treatment, always have a Plan B to Plan Z. Search on the pros and cons of each treatment and weigh in if it’s worth the possible pain, financial setbacks, and other issues you might encounter.
1 NCBI / Rising prevalence of multiple sclerosis worldwide: Insights from the Atlas of MS, third edition
2 Healthline / Multiple Sclerosis: Facts, Statistics, and You
3 Mayo Clinic / Multiple sclerosis
4 NHS UK / Causes – Multiple Sclerosis
5 NCBI / Multiple Sclerosis Misdiagnosis: A Persistent Problem to Solve
6 Healthline / Tests for Multiple Sclerosis