The month of March is dedicated to raising awareness on what the auto-immune disease Multiple Sclerosis is. As well as how science and further research can aid in understanding this disease in the hopes of eradicating it.
So why is Multiple Sclerosis often misunderstood by doctors? And how can someone know for sure whether if they have it or not?
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis, also referred to as MS for short, is a chronic disease of the central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Multiple Sclerosis is known as an auto-immune disease where the immune system attacks and destroys the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord (myelin), as well as healthy tissue in the central nervous system causing damage. Therefore, interfering with the transmission of the nerve signals between the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the body. Multiple Sclerosis is often a disabling disease that in some severe conditions may cause blindness and paralysis.
Most people are diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis between the ages of 20 and 50, although anyone under, or above that age range may develop it. An estimated of 2.8 million people live with Multiple Sclerosis worldwide. Generally, women are three times more likely to get Multiple Sclerosis than men.
Myelin damage of a nerve fiber by MS
Till this day, there is no one specific test that can determine whether you have Multiple Sclerosis or not as its diagnosis is based on differential diagnosis. Differential diagnosis is when your doctor relies on ruling out other conditions that might produce similar signs and symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.
Your doctor will most likely start with a complete and thorough medical history and examination to start their differential diagnosis process.
After that your doctor may recommend the following the tests:
- Blood tests – This will help rule out other diseases with symptoms that are similar to Multiple Sclerosis.
- Lumbar Puncture (spinal tap) – This is where a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid is removed from your spinal canal for laboratory analysis where the sample can show abnormalities in antibodies that are associated with Multiple Sclerosis. A spinal tap can also help rule out infections and other conditions with symptoms that are similar to Multiple Sclerosis.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – An MRI can reveal areas of lesions on your brain and spinal cord. You may receive an intravenous injection of a contrast material to highlight lesions that indicate your disease is in an active phase.
|Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)||
MRI scan showing MS lesions
Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis can be more challenging in patients with uncommon symptoms or progressive disease. In such cases, further testing with spinal fluid analysis, evoked potentials and additional imaging may be required.
Symptoms and signs
When it comes to Multiple Sclerosis, symptoms differ from one person to another over the course of the disease depending on how severe the disease is and the level of nerve damage. Symptoms may range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. Symptoms often occur as:
- Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, on one side of your body at a time.
- Electric shock sensations, especially when bending the neck forward (Lhermitte sign)
- Tremors and lack of steadiness
- Partial or complete loss of vision, one eye at a time and often occurs with pain during eye movement
- Prolonged double vision
- Blurry vision
- Slurred speech
- Tingling or pain in parts of your body
- Problems with bowel and bladder function
The main cause of Multiple Sclerosis is yet to be determined. As previously mentioned, Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself, this immune system malfunction destroys the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord (myelin).
It isn’t yet clear why Multiple Sclerosis develops in some people and not others, but scientists have determined that a combination of genetics and environmental factors might be responsible.
It is important to know that there is currently no cure for Multiple Sclerosis and that the progress, severity and specific symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis in any individual person cannot yet be predicted. However, advances in research and treatments are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world that will hopefully be free of Multiple Sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis attacks can be managed with tailored treatment plans, such as:
- Corticosteroids – Medications such as oral prednisone and intravenous methylprednisolone, are prescribed to reduce nerve inflammation. Side effects may include insomnia, increased blood pressure, increased blood glucose levels, mood swings and fluid retention.
- Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis) – The liquid portion of part of your blood (plasma) is removed and separated from your blood cells. The blood cells are then mixed with a protein solution (albumin) and put back into your body. Plasma exchange may be used if your symptoms are new, severe and haven't responded to steroids.
Click here to learn more about the treatment options to modify the progression of the disease.
When to see a doctor
It is important to seek professional help when you start experiencing the above symptoms for unknown reasons.
Are you interested in speaking to a doctor, but can’t find the right one near you? That’s where we from Saleem Telemedicine / Caresocius can help you. Simply browse https://caresocius.org/en our doctors and choose who’s right for you!
This articles’ sources