What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis or MS is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord resulting in loss of muscle control, vision, balance, and sensation (such as numbness). With MS, the nerves of the brain and spinal cord are damaged by one’s own immune system. Thus, the condition is called an autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune diseases are those whereby the body’s immune system, which normally targets and destroys substances foreign to the body such as bacteria, mistakenly attacks normal tissues. In MS, the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, the two components of the central nervous system. Other autoimmune diseases include lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
No one is sure what causes the body’s immune system to go awry in multiple sclerosis. Some scientists believe that it is a combination of genetics and something in the environment to which the person was exposed to early in life.
To learn more about what causes MS, see What Causes MS?
What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary from person to person and can change over time in the same person. The most common early symptoms include:
As the disease progresses, symptoms may include muscle stiffness (spasticity), pain, difficulty controlling urination, or problems with cognition.
How Is Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed?
Making the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis isn’t easy because the symptoms are vague and often fleeting. Factors that a health professional considers are:
- Two or more isolated episodes of symptoms that could be caused by MS. The episodes must last at least 24 hours and occur a month apart.
- MRI test showing the areas of demyelination (lesions).
There are other tests that a health professional may perform.
How Is Multiple Sclerosis Treated?
There are a variety of medications available that can reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms in some people with multiple sclerosis. Some drugs can also slow the progression of certain types of MS.
There are also a variety of medications available that can:
- Shorten attacks of MS (acute worsening of symptoms)
- Relieve the symptoms of MS (such as pain, urinary problems, and muscle stiffness)