Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune neurological condition, affecting the central nervous system. Multiple sclerosis can be unpredictable, but it often responds well to treatment.
In multiple sclerosis patients, the immune system attacks myelin, which surrounds nerve fibers, and nerve fibers themselves. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue, which interrupts nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord.
Although the cause is still unknown, many doctors and scientists believe the disease may be activated by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
With every person who has multiple sclerosis, the progression, severity and specific symptoms of the condition will be different. Some people have a type of multiple sclerosis that allows them to maintain a relatively normal lifestyle, with mild symptoms; other people can experience vision loss and weakness. There’s no cure, but treatment can relieve symptoms and help you manage your daily living.
What are the different types of multiple sclerosis?
- Relapsing-remitting MS, the most common form. About 85 percent of people with MS are initially diagnosed with this type. It involves temporary periods called relapses, or flare-ups, when new symptoms may appear, followed and preceded by periods where they may experience few or no symptoms and the disease appears to be in remission.
- Secondary-progressive MS, when symptoms get worse steadily over time, with or without relapses and remissions. If you’re diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS, you may transition to secondary-progressive at some point, but not all cases of MS are progressive, when treated.
- Primary-progressive MS, an uncommon type diagnosed in about 10 percent of people with multiple sclerosis. You may see slowly worsening symptoms from the beginning, with no relapses or remissions.
- Progressive-relapsing MS is a rare form of the disease, affecting just 5 percent of patients with the disease. You may experience a deteriorating disease state from the beginning, with significant relapses but no remissions.
Multiple sclerosis symptoms
You may experience:
- Tingling, numbness or pain, especially in the extremities.
- Difficulty with balance and walking.
- Changes in vision, including double vision.
- Emotional changes, such as depression.
- Fuzzy thinking or diminished ability to comprehend speech or written words.
- Impaired muscle coordination.
- Slurred speech or stuttering.
- Bladder and bowel changes.
How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?
Your HonorHealth neurologist may:
- Get your complete medical history and perform a physical exam and a detailed neurological examination.
- Order MRI scans examining the brain and sometimes the spinal cord.
- Order a spinal tap to get a sample of spinal fluid that may reveal inflammatory cells associated with multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis causes and risk factors
For reasons not known, your body's immune system can attack your own central nervous system. The following factors may increase your risk for developing MS:
- A variety of viruses have been linked to MS, including Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis.
- If you smoke, you're at higher risk for developing multiple sclerosis.
- Multiple sclerosis most commonly affects people between the ages of 15 and 60.
- Women are almost twice as likely as men to develop this disease.
- If a parent or sibling has had the disease, you’re at higher risk of developing it.
- Multiple sclerosis is far more common in temperate climates.
- Caucasians, especially those of northern European descent, are at highest risk of developing the disease.
Treatment options for multiple sclerosis
Your HonorHealth neurologist will consider such treatments as medications and infusion therapy:
- Injectable medications such as interferons and glatiramer acetate for the treatment of relapsing-remitting MS.
- Oral or intravenous medication may also be prescribed depending on your diagnosis.