What is going on with your muscles?
MS is something that most of us don’t think about unless it affects ourselves or someone we care about. This means that you probably don’t really know what it is or the cause of it is. What does the treatment involve? Is there a cure?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to destroy the protective covering (myelin) that goes around your nerve fibers. The myelin is an insulation for your nerves and when it is gone, communication problems between your nerves and brain can happen. The process is slow, so the changes that occur do so over a period of time, usually years. The cause of MS is unknown, but there are certain factors that put you at an increased risk. Some of the factors, such as age or gender, are not something that you can change. MS usually appears between the age of 15 and 60 and it is more likely to occur in women. A family history of MS puts you at higher risk. Also, people who are white are at an increased risk. Certain infections, particularly viruses, have been shown to have some connection to a person developing MS. If you have another autoimmune disorder, like thyroid diseases, diabetes type 1 or inflammatory bowel disease, your chance of acquiring MS is increased. Some factors that you can control are living in a temperate climate and smoking. Both of these have been connected to getting MS.
The symptoms of MS are different for each person because the nerves affected by it are not the same and the rate it destroys the myelin varies. Some common symptoms include numbness/weakness to various parts of your body, partial/complete loss of vision (usually one eye at a time), double vision that won’t go away, tingling/pain throughout your body, electric-shock sensations that usually occur when you turn your neck a certain way, tremors, unsteady gait, lack of coordination, slurred speech, fatigue, dizziness and problems controlling your bowels/bladder. The disease usually presents with mild symptoms that appear over a few days or weeks and then improve partially or completely, which lasts for several months to years before another episode occurs. As the disease progress, the remission periods become shorter and less frequent. Typically, the number of symptoms increase and/or worsen with each new episode. This type of MS is called relapsing-remitting MS. There is also primary-progressive MS, which is when symptoms gradually appear and progress without any remission periods.
Since there is no cure for MS, the treatment is geared toward managing symptoms, hastening recovery from attacks and slowing progression of the disease. To manage symptoms, it is recommended that you partake in physical therapy in order to learn exercises that make it easier for you to do daily tasks. You can take muscle relaxing medications to help with muscle stiffness/spasms. Also, you can take medications to reduce fatigue, depression, pain, sexual dysfunction and bladder/bowel control problems. Another thing you can do to help lessen MS symptoms is to get regular exercise, such as swimming, water aerobics, walking, stretching, low-impact aerobics and yoga. It is also important to get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet and reduce the amount of stress in your life. Some people with MS have worse symptoms when their body temperature is higher, so it is a good idea to avoid exposure to heat and find methods to help your body remain cooler. In order to lessen the length and severity of attacks, corticosteroids are used to reduce inflammation around the nerves. If this doesn’t work because the attack is severe or a new onset, a plasmapheresis can be done. This is where the plasma (the liquid portion of your blood) is removed from your body and separated from your blood cells. Prior to being mixed with your blood cells and put back in your body, the plasma is cleansed and mixed with albumin (protein). This allows for any antibodies that are thought to bring on an attack to be removed. To slow the progression of the disease there are medications that you can take, but it is up to your doctor as to which one will work best for you. For primary-progressive, there is only one medication that is currently approved by the FDA. For relapsing-remitting, there are several different options.
Once you have been diagnosed with MS, it is important to maintain your normal activities as much as possible. This also means participating in hobbies that you enjoy and are able to do. Staying connected with family and friends to have a support system is vital. If possible, join a support group so you can connect with others who will understand what you are going through. Also, it can be helpful to talk to a therapist to share your feelings and concerns.
While there are certain factors that increase your risk of MS that cannot be changed, there are things that you do have control over. You are unable to change your age, gender, family history, race and autoimmune disorder status. However, you have the ability to do everything you can to prevent yourself from contracting certain viral infections that put you at increased risk for MS. You can decide whether or not to live in temperate climates, where MS is more common. It is up to you whether or not you smoke. By doing what you can to decrease your chances of MS, you are one step ahead.
Multiple sclerosis is a life altering diagnosis. Since there is currently no cure, it is important to do everything possible to live your life to the fullest every day by managing symptoms, decreasing the severity/length of attacks and slowing the progression of the disease. If you have any questions or concerns regarding MS, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information about MS, please visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at https://www.nationalmssociety.org/