Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the nerve cells of the body. Find out the causes, symptoms, and the treatment of this condition, through this HealthHearty article.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is presently considered an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks and damages the nerve cells of the brain and the spinal cord. In this disease, the myelin sheaths that surround and protect the nerve cells are broken down by the body’s own immune system. The gradual destruction of the myelin sheaths is called demyelination.
Along with demyelination, this condition is characterized by the development of scars. The breakdown of myelin sheaths causes the formation of hardened spots or scars, which are called sclerosis. Demyelination and the resulting scarring disrupt the transmission of nerve impulses, which in turn affects some basic functions, like muscle control, balance, and coordination. Eventually, this condition can cause physical and mental disability.
Though it is generally considered an autoimmune disease, nobody has been able to ascertain what exactly triggers the autoimmune reaction. The incidence of the disease is more among women. The disease commonly affects individuals in the age group of 20 to 40 years. It has been observed that people having a family history of multiple sclerosis have an increased risk of developing this condition. However, it is not considered a hereditary disease. Instead, it is assumed that some people may have a genetic predisposition to develop this condition.
Again, this condition has been observed to be more prevalent in those parts of the world, which are far from the equatorial region. These areas receive a low amount of sunlight, for which it is thought that the deficiency of vitamin D may play an important role in the development of this condition. Apart from these, the exposure to certain virus and bacteria can also be a possible cause. The human herpes virus, Epstein-Barr, and measles virus are some of the infectious agents that are being studied in this regard. Other triggering factors include, physical and emotional stress, smoking, and exposure to certain toxins.
Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of this condition depend on the particular nerves damaged by the immune response, as well as the extent of the damage. In the early stage of the disease, motor skills of the affected individual can get disrupted. A difficulty in coordination and balance, along with muscle weakness are some of the most common early symptoms of this condition.
This autoimmune disease is characterized by periods of relapse and remission. So, the symptoms of this condition can persist for a brief period, and then disappear for a long time. But in some individuals, the symptoms can gradually worsen and result in progressive impairment of the various neurological functions.
The following are some of the most common signs and symptoms that can be produced by this condition:
- Muscle weakness
- Problems in balance and coordination
- Numbness, tingling, or a pricking sensation in certain parts of the body
- Vision problems (partial loss of vision or double vision)
- Cognitive impairment
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Depression and mood swings
- Problems in thinking and memory
Diagnosis and Treatment
There is no accurate test for diagnosing this condition. The condition is often diagnosed with a proper evaluation of the symptoms, along with some tests like an MRI and spinal tap. It is possible to have MS, even if the results of these tests are negative.
Presently, there is no cure for this autoimmune condition. The treatment depends on several factors, including the specific type of the disease. There are mainly four types of multiple sclerosis – recurring remitting MS, primary progressive MS, secondary progressive MS, and progressive relapsing MS.
Usually, medications are prescribed to manage the symptoms, and slow down the progression of the disease. Some of the common medications used for this purpose are, corticosteroids, interferons, glatiramer, natalizumab, and mitoxantrone. The FDA has approved three beta interferon drugs for treating this condition, which are known as avonex, betaseron, and rebif.
Along with medications, physical therapy is also required for managing the symptoms of this condition. Physicians can also recommend some dietary changes to manage the symptoms of this condition. The foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, may help control the symptoms of MS. To know more about a suitable diet, along with the other treatment options, you can talk to your physician.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.