Multiple Sclerosis (MS), is a neurological disease that affects the function of the brain and spinal cord. It is specifically related to the deterioration of the myelin sheaths that cover nerve endings, and this can inhibit the way that signals are processed from the brain. As a result, muscular actions and physical sensations are often distorted.
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What are the Symptoms for MS?
Although symptoms can vary depending on the type of MS or the stage to which the scarring of the myelin sheaths has progressed, there are certain symptoms that are prevalent across the range of this disease. These can include:
- Muscular weakness or immobility
- Visual problems
- Sensations such as pain, prickling, and numbness
- Trouble with coordination
In many cases, symptoms may disappear as the disease appears to go into remittance, but they will often return unexpectedly. Other patients with MS may experience a consistent worsening of these symptoms throughout the course of the chronic disease.
What is Encephalomyelitis Disseminata?
Encephalomyelitis disseminata is a medical term that is used for MS or disseminated sclerosis, and refers specifically to the progression of symptoms as the scarring on the myelin sheaths becomes more pronounced. While the term can be used interchangeably with MS, it is more often used to categorize the progressive types of the disease. Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis is sometimes categorized as a related disease to MS, since it is a temporary inflammation of the brain that does abate, although the damage to the myelin sheaths is permanent.
How many Types of MS are there?
MS is generally divided in to four categories, each of which has a different trajectory of symptom progression.
• Relapsing-remitting MS – this is the most common form of the disease. While there is generally a continual decline in neurological function, this type of the disease will show distinct phases of regression and flare ups that can lead to impeded function.
• Secondary-progressive MS – this type of the disease is often associated with relapsing-remitting MS, and is sometimes considered a next stage in the disease. It is a steady worsening of symptoms, without distinct flare-ups or regression.
• Primary-progressive MS – this type of the disease is less common, but it is marked by a continual progression of symptoms from the point of diagnosis onwards. It may plateau in stages, but it does not regress.
• Progressive-relapsing MS – this is the least common of the four types, and symptoms for patients in this category will progress in jumps. Although the disease will appear to relapse as the symptoms even out, there is no lessening of the impact that the neurological damage has on patients.
Causes for MS
The actual causes of MS are still considered mysteries, although auto-immune issues and inflammatory disease are thought to play a part in the attack on the myelin sheaths. Ultimately the body’s immune system is triggered to destroy the myelin in the brain and the spinal cord, which results in the manifest symptoms of the disease. The actual reason that the immune system does this is unknown, but some theories include factors such as:
- Environmental causes
- Viral infection
As the inflammatory disease continues to dissolve the myelin sheaths, scar tissue is formed around the nerve endings. This leads to the progression of neurological dysfunction as the scar tissue impedes the electrical impulses in the brain and spinal cord.
Diagnosis for MS
Although there is not an actual test for the disease, diagnosis for MS may still be made through a number of channels.
• MRI – The magnetic resonance imaging can reveal the formation of plaques in the brain and on the spinal cord. This type of imaging may also use contrast to distinguish between older and newer plaques in generating a diagnosis of MS, although there are other diseases that also lead to these types of formations.
• Spinal tap – This procedure takes a sample of the spinal fluid, which can then be measured for the presence of immune system proteins. Elevated levels can lead to the consideration of MS as a diagnosis, but this may also be performed in conjunction with other testing.
• Evoked potential testing – This is done through the measurement of electrical charges through the nerves, and can determine if there is a lapse in connection as the messages are being sent from the brain. This type of testing is also often combined with an MRI to generate a more complete diagnosis.
Since there is no specific test for MS, some of the diagnostic approaches may be subjective on the part of the physician, although the use of the above methods can lead to a more concrete conclusion. It is often through the progression of the disease that a true diagnosis is formed.
Are there Treatments for MS?
MS can be managed, although treatments may vary based on the type of MS that a patient has. Several drugs are approved by the FDA and can be obtained through a specialty pharmacy for injection. These disease specific drugs can aid in reducing inflammation, lessening the formation of scar tissue, and slowing the progression of the disease.
Further management for MS is often done through the use of adjunct medications that are not specific to the disease but can lessen the impact of the symptoms. These will often include general anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medication, and anti-spasmodics. Other types of treatment can also include occupational and physical therapy, and may include family members and loved ones as part of the support group.
What are the Impacts to Family Life
Since many of the symptoms for MS do include physical impairment, people who suffer from this disease will need to modify activity and look to family members and loved ones for support. Depending upon the stage of the disease, patients may find that they can be partially independent in their function, although many cases will require specialized care for everyday tasks.
With support and treatment, the disease can be managed, and many people with MS do lead productive lives in society.