Understanding Multiple Sclerosis and its Symptoms

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic immune-mediated neurological disease of unknown origin.

Multiple sclerosis affects the nerves. More specifically, it involves the body’s own immune system attacking the myelin sheaths that protect and insulate nerve fibers, much like the insulating plastic around individual wires in an electric cable. Nerve impulses, like electricity, may short-circuit with undesirable consequences; and scar tissue may form at the sites of damage (sclerosis) and further impair the propagation of electrical signals along the nerve. The fact that this pathological process affects nerves in various locations throughout the central nervous system (CNS), including the brain, optic nerves and spinal cord, is the reason why it is termed ‘multiple sclerosis.’

Around 2.3 million people worldwide currently live with multiple sclerosis. Although MS can affect anyone, there are some notable risk factors. Most significantly, the condition affects twice as many women as men. It is also most likely to afflict Caucasian people, particularly those living away from the equator (e.g. Northern Europe). This has led some researchers to suggest that Vitamin D deficiency might play a part in its aetiology (and the development of other autoimmune disorders). A genetic component is also suspected since the disease is commoner among siblings and cousins. This fact may also raise the possibility of environmental causes, affecting members of the same “environment.”

Image Courtesy: Medlineplus.gov

Early symptoms of MS tend to appear between the ages of 20 and 40 years and specialists have identified four patterns of the disease. The commonest form, relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS),affects around 80 per cent of patients, and is characterized by symptoms which flare up and then die down again. Relapses can happen at any time but are often triggered by stress or illness; and relapses tend to progress quickly, over a period of days and stay for anything from a few days to a few of months, before gradually remitting. Symptoms of the primary-progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) worsen progressively from the start without exhibiting the cyclic remissions. The third form, the secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS), is diagnosed when a cycle of relapse in the RRMS type does not remit and symptoms keep progressing.  The least common form, the progressive-relapsing multiple sclerosis (PRMS), affects around 5 per cent of MS patients and is characterized by relapses followed by remissions with a trend towards worsening symptoms and disease progression.

Although multiple sclerosis is a life-long condition, which may be debilitating and disabling, it is important to note that none of its forms are considered fatal. Statistics bear out the fact that most people with the condition live as long as those without it (in the absence of any severe complications arising from some of the symptoms of advanced stages of MS).

Asa few of the symptoms of MS are similar to those of other conditions (e.g. HIV and Lyme disease), the diagnosis of MS is made by a neurologist based on the history and physical examination (including neurological) and a number of laboratory and imaging studies, including a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) whereby a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is taken for analysis; and magnetic resonance imaging(MRI), which detects the typical plaque(scarring) in around 90 per cent of cases of MS.

Recognizing Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

Multiple sclerosis is a disease which affects people in different ways. In fact, no two patients with MS will experience exactly the same constellation of symptoms. Likewise, while all those with MS will almost certainly experience some level of impairment in their day-to-day functioning, symptoms can be unpredictable and range from mild to severe. Many MS patients remain employed and continue to function physically and mentally and a few continue to enjoy quality time with their families.

One of the most commonly experienced symptoms associated with MS is fatigue which is often worse later in the day, especially during hot weather, after exercise and following a bout of illness. Fatigue due to MS is sometimes described as being overwhelming, making even the simplest tasks impossible.

Another common symptom, affecting half those afflicted with MS is visual disturbance. Twenty-five per cent of patients present with this symptoms. This is due to inflammation of the optic nerve (optic neuritis) and can manifest as blurring, double vision, eye pain (particularly when moving the eye), flashes, color blindness and, in a few cases, actual blindness. Fortunately, these symptoms usually resolve and only one eye is often affected, though some patients do experience problems with both.

Some of the symptoms of MS can mimic those of stroke with patients experiencing weakness in the limbs, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing and confusion. If such symptoms occur, the patient is advised to attend ER immediately in case they are having a stroke in which case timely intervention is critical.

MS symptoms can also affect the muscles resulting in tremors, spasms and excessive stiffness (spasticity). Occasionally, muscular problems can extend to the bladder, with patients experiencing urge incontinence whereby they feel the sudden need to urinate. Less common is bowel incontinence.

Other commonly encountered side effects include problems with co-ordination and balance (ataxia); dizziness and vertigo; numbness; tingling; mental health problems (mood swings, depression, anxiety, etc.); sexual dysfunction and cognitive impairment. The latter can manifest in various ways including “brain fog,” a lack of sharpness, problems with planning, an inability to multi-task, poor concentration, difficulty with problem-solving or impairments in specific areas such as visual learning (e.g. map-reading) or mathematical reasoning skills.

Patients with MS often experience pain, both musculoskeletal pain, often affecting the neck, back and joints, and neuropathic pain as a result of the nerve damage itself. The latter can manifest anywhere in the body and in various different ways from sharp, stabbing pains to the face to burning or pins and needles in the limbs to a squeezing sensation around the trunk.

Existing Treatments and Therapies

Multiple sclerosis is currently a disease without a cure although there are several disease-modifying and symptom management drugs available. These are widely prescribed to slow the progression of the disease, mitigate damage to the brain and spine, ease pain and muscle spasms and reduce the frequency and severity of other symptoms. For example, when patients are experiencing a period of acute relapse, a high dose of corticosteroids often shortens the duration of the attack. Medication can also help manage some of the associated mental and emotional disorders that result from MS such as anxiety and depression.

Physical interventions such as occupational therapy, physiotherapy, massage and exercise can also help with mobility, weakness and pain while speech and language therapy can address problems with swallowing and slurred speech. Over time, patients usually learn to compensate for muscle weakness and problems with balance and co-ordination. While a few patients will require a wheelchair or a mobility scooter to get around, others are able to walk quite effectively with the aid of a frame or even just a cane for support.

Specialist facilities, such as the Gulf coast Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, are currently engaged in exciting research on the potential for autologous stem cells to help people with MS and other neurological and immune disorders to experience symptomatic relief and to recover some of the function lost to MS. The procedure, which takes place over as little as three hours, involves extracting a stem cell-rich fluid from the patient’s own adipose (fat) tissue via a short liposuction procedure. The stem cell rich suspensionis then deployed back into the patient with little or no discomfort.

If you are interested in finding out more about the technology and procedures used at the center and the medical conditions that are currently being studied there, please visit the website at https://www.gulfcoaststemcell.com

Alternatively, you can call the center direct and speak to a friendly advisor on (866) 885 4823.

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