Multiple sclerosis is one of those diseases, the mysterious existence of which is something that experts fail to understand till today. Though the cause of this condition still remains unknown, there are other facts and information that can help the multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Read this article to know all this and more…
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition wherein the body’s immune system is in the ‘self-destruction’ mode. The reason why I am referring this condition as ‘self destruction’ is because the immune system, which is normally responsible for protecting the body from threats like diseases and infections, starts to attack and destroy the myelin sheath which covers the nerve fibers present in the central nervous system consisting of the brain and the spinal cord. These nerve fibers are responsible to send signals from the brain to the body for controlling the functions which involve movement and balance of the body.
As the immune system eats away this protective sheath, the transmission of the nerve signals become impaired or blocked. Multiple sclerosis leads to inflammation in the myelin sheath, which in turn, can cause health concerns like vision problems, problems related to coordination, sensation, balance, and other important functions. Studies reveal that people within the age of 20-50 years are more prone to this condition, with women being more at risk as compared to men.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis causes impairment in the process of communication between the brain and the rest of the body because the sheath protecting the nerve cables is damaged and tends to block out the signals sent by the brain. Therefore the symptoms vary depending upon the nerve that has been affected and the degree of damage that has occurred. The symptoms are usually unstable in nature; meaning, they can appear all of a sudden and disappear suddenly for several weeks, but mind you, these symptoms tend to recur time and again, which is why it is important to identify the early signs of multiple sclerosis as soon as possible.
These signs are mentioned below.
- Vision problems like blurred or double vision
- Tingling sensation with or without pain
- Pain during eye movements along with complete or partial loss of vision in one of the eyes
- Feeling numb at one side of your body, typically in the lower body
- Lack of sync and coordination in the body movements
- Feeling dizzy and experiencing tremors in the body
- Experiencing an ‘electric shock’ like feeling while head movements
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
MS are of different types, categorized depending upon the severity and occurrence of the symptoms associated with it. The exception to this is a type of MS known as Benign MS, wherein the symptoms may appear and then suddenly disappear completely for almost 10-15 years, making the person think that he or she has completely healed. However, there is no surety that the MS has healed and that it will not affect the person in the future. Apart from this, there are three main types of MS that are commonly found. These are explained as follows.
Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS): This is the most common type of MS, which accounts for almost 65%-80% of the cases. A person is said to be suffering from RRMS when the symptoms are both remitting and relapsing. A relapse is when the MS symptoms appear for at least 24 hours or more, or when the symptoms worsen as compared to the previous MS attack. Remissions are when the symptoms disappear or become more mild in nature. Therefore, if one tends to experience a relapse for a few days, weeks, or even months; and then experiences a remission, it is known as RRMS. Many a time, there is a significant gap, varying from months to even years, between a remission and a relapse.
Secondary-progressive MS (SPMS): This can be considered as the next stage of RRMS. Usually, people who suffer from RRMS, tend to move on to this stage after a significant amount of time, even 15-20 years after the initial stage! In this type of MS, the severity of the symptoms become all the more steady, and relapses may or may not occur.
Primary-progressive MS (PPMS): This is the most rare type of MS accounting for about 10%-20% of the cases. Unlike commonly noticed, wherein the onset of MS starts from RRMS, these rarely affected cases experience the onset of the condition with PPMS. The symptoms are steady throughout and the physical abilities of the person gradually decline.
Tests and Diagnosis for Multiple Sclerosis
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can also be associated with other health conditions. Which is why the best approach that experts adapt to diagnose this condition, is to rule out the possibilities of other conditions and coming to the point that the cause behind the symptoms could be nothing else but multiple sclerosis. If you are looking for some specific tests designed for diagnosing multiple sclerosis, then there is no such thing. Nonetheless, there are various tests and examinations that are done, the results and analysis of which can help in chalking out other possibilities and bringing the diagnosis to MS.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI is considered to be one of the most significant tests to diagnose multiple sclerosis. It can give a clear picture of the damage the condition has caused to the nerve cables in the brain and the spinal cord using the radio waves and the powerful magnetic field. It can trace lesions and injuries in the nerve fiber which can indicate the presence of multiple sclerosis. However, the point to be kept in mind is that these lesions can also be present in other health conditions like lupus and Lyme disease. So the presence of multiple sclerosis can be confirmed by some additional testing.
Blood Tests and Analysis
As mentioned earlier, because there isn’t any specific test to diagnose the condition, the best approach is to rule out other conditions that mimic the signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis. For this purpose various blood tests are conducted to rule out the other possibilities.
Also known as the spinal tap, this procedure is used to obtain the cerebrospinal fluid from your spinal canal which is sent to the laboratory to detect the abnormalities that can indicate the presence of multiple sclerosis. The sample can actually help determine the presence of the condition by actually ruling out the chances of viral infections and diseases which can also cause the symptoms that are suspected to be multiple sclerosis.
Evoked potentials is nothing but electrical examinations and tests which are conducted to make sure if the electrical signals emitted by the brain are alright and are not affecting the sensory, visual and auditory pathways. This test actually enables the doctors to check the brain’s response to various electric stimulation.
Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis
Once your doctor had conducted the aforementioned tests and examinations to diagnose the condition, the next step would be to start relevant treatment to help you deal with the condition. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition which has no cure. In fact, most of the time, the signs and symptoms are so mild that treatment is not necessary. However, various drugs can be used to treat the symptoms and relapses, slow the progress of the disease and to help you live with it in a comfortable way.
These medications include drugs like Avonex, Betaseron, Tysabri, Copaxone, Rebif, Novantrone, Gilenya, to name some. Consuming muscle relaxants and medications to reduce fatigue may also be advised depending upon your condition. In case of severe multiple sclerosis, a procedure known as plasmapheresis which is used to separate the plasma and the blood cells in your body. This helps in controlling some serious symptoms when other techniques and medications fail to do so.
Still being one of the most mysterious condition, with no logical explanation in terms of its origin and why it affects only some and not others, multiple sclerosis is definitely a condition that can become extremely bothersome if not diagnosed till the later stage. So make sure that you get in touch with a neurologist as soon as you feel that your signs and symptoms may be due to this condition.
You also need to bring some significant changes in your lifestyle for multiple sclerosis prevention. This can be done in terms of relaxing and living a healthy and active lifestyle which does NOT involve stress. This is because stress actually triggers this condition. Make sure you speak to your healthcare specialist as soon as possible and seriously work on minimizing the consequences of this condition in your daily life. Take care.