What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).
In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body.
Eventually, the disease can cause the nerves themselves to deteriorate or become permanently damaged.
Signs and symptoms of MS vary widely and depend on the amount of nerve damage and which nerves are affected.
Some people with severe MS may lose the ability to walk independently or at all, while others may experience long periods of remission without any new symptoms.
There’s no cure for multiple sclerosis. However, treatments can help speed recovery from attacks, modify the course of the disease and manage symptoms.
For every person, the disease develops differently. Yet the early warning signs are quite similar.
Early Symptoms of MS
- Blurred or double vision
- Thinking problems
- Clumsiness or a lack of coordination
- Loss of balance
- Weakness in an arm or leg
- Common Symptoms of MS
These are the most common changes to the mind and body in someone with MS.
Keep in mind that the severity of symptoms varies greatly and many people go years with only mild symptoms that come and go.
Unusual sensations: People with MS often say they feel a “pins and needles” sensation.
They may also have numbness, itching, burning, stabbing, or tearing pains.
About half of people with MS have these uncomfortable symptoms. Fortunately, they can be managed or treated.
About 8 in 10 people have bladder problems, which can be treated. You may need to urinate more often, need to go at night, or have trouble emptying your bladder fully. Bowel problems, especially constipation, are also common.
MS can cause muscle weakness or spasms, which make it more difficult to walk. Balance problems, numb feet, and fatigue can also make walking more difficult.
You may feel dizzy or lightheaded. You usually won’t have vertigo, or the feeling that the room is spinning.
About 8 in 10 people feel very tired. It often comes on in the afternoon and causes weak muscles, slowed thinking, or sleepiness. It’s usually not related to the amount of work you do. Some people with MS say they can feel tired even after a good night’s sleep.
They usually affect the leg muscles. For about 40% of people they are an early symptom of MS. In progressive MS, muscle spasms affect about 6 in 10 people. You might feel mild stiffness or strong, painful muscle spasms.
These include vaginal dryness in women and erection problems in men. Both men and women may be less responsive to touch, have a lower sex drive, or have trouble reaching orgasm.
Sometimes MS can cause people to pause a long time in between words and have slurred or nasal speech. Some people also develop swallowing problems in more advanced stages of MS.
About half of people with MS have trouble concentrating that comes and goes. For most, this means slowed thinking, poor attention, or fuzzy memory. Rarely, people can have severe problems that make it hard to do daily tasks. MS usually does not change your intellect and ability to read and understand conversation.
Tremors: About half of people with MS have tremors. They can be minor shakes or make it hard to do everyday activities.
About half of people with MS have tremors. They can be minor shakes or make it hard to do everyday activities.
Problems with your eyes tend to be one of the first symptoms.
They usually affect only one eye and go away on their own. Your sight may be blurry, gray, or have a dark spot in the center. You may suddenly have eye pain and temporary vision loss.
Very rarely, people with MS may have breathing problems or seizures.
What Causes MS Symptoms?
Doctors divide the symptoms into three groups: primary, secondary, and tertiary.
Primary symptoms come from damage to the protective sheath (myelin) around the nerves in your spine or brain. The damage causes scarring, which makes it harder for signals to travel between the brain and the body.
This process can lead to bladder or bowel problems, loss of balance, numbness, paralysis, tingling, tremors, vision problems, or weakness.
Medications, physical therapy, and other treatments can keep many of these problems under control.
Secondary symptoms follow the main problems of MS. For instance, not being able to empty your bladder can lead to a bladder infection.
Doctors can treat secondary symptoms, but the goal is to avoid them by treating the primary symptoms.
Tertiary symptoms are the social, psychological, and job-related problems of living with MS. For instance, if MS makes it hard for you to walk or drive, you may not be able to do your job well.
Because MS varies so much, it’s best not to compare yourself with other people who have MS.
Your experience is likely to be different. Most people learn to manage their symptoms and can keep leading full, active lives.
Medications used to treat MS.
Deep Brain Stimulation: Multiple Sclerosis Tremors
This surgical procedure is effective in controlling tremors, but it has risks. Read this brief overview.
Plasma Exchange for MS
Plasma Exchange (also called Plasmapheresis) is one possible treatment for MS. Read more about this option.
Controlling Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms and stiffness are triggered by many factors. This overview explains what’s happening — and what helps. Click here.
Managing Bladder Control Problems
Embarrassing bladder problems are common, and they can be solved. Learn to regain control of your bladder. Click here.
Alternative Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis
Certain interventions could relieve MS symptoms and improve quality of life. Read more about the alternative options.
Riskier Alternative Treatments for MS
While some alternative treatments do provide relief from MS symptoms, there are others that you may want to avoid. Read more about the riskier and unproven alternative treatments.
Ampyra for MS
Ampyra (dalfampridine) is a new and different treatment option for MS.
Treating MS with Interferon Drugs
Interferon beta drugs are similar to proteins produced by the body for the immune system. Read more about this kind of MS treatment.
Cytoxan Therapy for MS
Cytoxan suppresses the immune system, which slows MS progression. Find out more about this therapy.
Imuran for MS
Imuran (azathioprine) is another drug used to slow the progression of MS by suppressing immunity. Click to read more.
Treating MS with a Baclofen Pump
Baclofen is a common treatment for spasticity associated with neurological diseases. A pump system can reduce side effects of the medicine for long-term use of the medicine. Learn more.
Botox for MS
Botox (botulinum toxin) relaxes muscles and reduces spasticity. Find out how it works.
Novantrone for MS
Novantrone (mitoxantrone IV) is an immune-suppressing medicine that can only be given via an IV. Read more about this therapy for MS.
Treating MS With IV Steroids
Potent IV steroids are sometimes used to reduce and control the symptoms of an acute attack of multiple sclerosis. Find out how doctors use this medicine to ease relapse symptoms.
Tysabri Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
Tysabri (natalizumab) is a treatment option to delay the progression of MS and reduce flare-ups. Find out more about this drug.
Alternatives & Pain Relief
Acupuncture and other alternatives can relieve pain. Read the exciting research.
We have more posts on our website talking about multiple sclerosis, you can read those here.
Read more on Multiple Sclerosis on Wikipedia.