Healthy Living

Multiple Sclerosis: The Top 10 Questions

1 Is Multiple Sclerosis Genetic?

The real cause of multiple sclerosis is not known. However, scientists believe that multiple sclerosis is caused by an interaction of several different factors. When it comes to a genetic factor, studies have shown that multiple sclerosis is not an inherited disease. On the other hand, it has been estimated that having a parent or a sibling with multiple sclerosis increases the chances of getting it significantly.

Some studies also suggest that certain people are born with a genetic predisposition to react to certain environmental agents, which will trigger the immune system, leading to multiple sclerosis.

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Common genetic factors are also identified in some families where there is more than one member diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

2 Is Multiple Sclerosis Autoimmune?

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease as the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system. However, this is still a subject of debate among many scientists as no specific antigen has been identified yet.

The body’s own system attacks and destroys the following structures on the nervous system, leading to the development of multiple sclerosis:

  • Myelin: The fatty sheath which surrounds and protects the nerve fibers.
  • Oligodendrocytes: The cells which produce the myelin.
  • Underlying nerve fibers.

T-cells of the immune system become sensitized to certain proteins in the nervous system. Once these T-cells become activated, they start attacking the nervous system and recruit even more T- cells which continue to further damage the nervous system. These activated T-cells do not damage only the myelin sheath, but they also produce certain chemicals which damage the axons as well.

Scientists have also discovered, and studied, receptor sites on the T-cells which bind to the myelin. A further research of these T-cell receptor sites can lead to their precise identification. Once correctly identified, specific immunosuppressant therapies can be developed in order to destroy these activated T-cells which cause damage to the myelin and other nervous system structures, leading to the development of multiple sclerosis.

3 Is Multiple Sclerosis Painful?

Yes, pain is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis. Certain factors like the length of time with multiple sclerosis, age at onset, or the disability degree of a person seem to play an important role to the severity of pain a person with multiple sclerosis feels.

Some studies have revealed that women with multiple sclerosis are more likely to experience pain when compared to men with multiple sclerosis.

The pain in multiple sclerosis can be either acute or chronic. Types of acute pain which accompany multiple sclerosis include:

  • Dysesthesia – a burning or aching sensation in the body. Dysesthesia usually affects the legs and feet, though it can affect the arms or trunk as well. It can be quite uncomfortable and painful. However, dysesthesia is not a serious problem unless it interferes with the person’s ability to perform normal daily tasks.
  • Trigeminal neuralgia – a stabbing pain located on the face affecting the trigeminal nerve. In many cases, trigeminal neuralgia is the initial symptom of multiple sclerosis. Sometimes, this can be confused with dental pain.
  • Lhermitte’s sign – a short and stabbing pain felt along the spine while bending the neck forward.

A burning, prickling, or aching sensation is usually chronic, together with muscle spasms and cramps.

4 What Does Multiple Sclerosis Pain Feel Like?

Multiple sclerosis can be quite painful, and living with this pain on a daily basis is often nerve-wrecking. It is hard to believe that until the 1980’s, multiple sclerosis was considered a painless medical condition. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, about 80% of patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis experiences some level of pain at some point. About 50% of all patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis have to deal with chronic pain.

Pain in multiple sclerosis is very complex and for patients, it is often hard to describe it. Neuropathic pain is most common among patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Types of neuropathic pain include dysesthesia, paresthesia, trigeminal neuralgia, headaches, optic neuritis, allodynia, and even MS hug.

Musculoskeletal pain is another type of pain which accompanies multiple sclerosis patients. This type of pain is commonly known as nociceptive pain. Examples of musculoskeletal pain include back pain, muscle spasms, joint stiffness, joint pain, etc.

Paroxysmal pain is also common among patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This type of pain is characterized by a sudden onset of severe pain which lasts for a very short period of time. Examples of paroxysmal pain are Lhermitte’s sign, extensor spasms, etc.

5 Does Multiple Sclerosis Affect Your Feet?

Yes, multiple sclerosis can affect your feet just as any other part of your body. Multiple sclerosis is considered an autoimmune disease characterized by damage to the myelin and other structures of the nervous system. These damages affect the central nervous system.  

A numbness, burning, or aching sensation on the feet is a common sign of multiple sclerosis. The numbness can be mild, moderate, or severe, sometimes even interfering with the ability to walk. Walking difficulties are also common among patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis due to several factors like muscle weakness, sensory deficiency, spasticity, balance problems, etc.

A dropped foot is a symptom of multiple sclerosis as well. This is caused by a weakness of the ankle or a disruption in the nerve pathway between the peripheral and central nervous system. Having a dropped foot will make you more vulnerable to tripping or falling. It also makes it difficult to climb stairs and even walk on uneven surfaces.

6 Can Multiple Sclerosis Lead to Death?

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic medical condition, affecting the nervous system, which has no cure. In general, multiple sclerosis is not a fatal condition. People diagnosed with this disease have essentially the same life expectancy as people who are not diagnosed with this disease.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, people diagnosed with this condition live about 7 years less than a general population. However, patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis often tend to have other health problems which interfere greatly with their life quality, leading to premature death as well. Only in severe cases of multiple sclerosis is the outlook and prognosis poor. Those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis have more problems with the life quality than with life longevity.

7 What Parts of the Brain Are Affected by MS?

Multiple sclerosis is a medical condition which affects the central nervous system. The body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath, the oligodendrocytes, and other structures of the nervous system, leading to various signs and symptoms. This myelin damage due to multiple sclerosis can occur anywhere in the brain and spinal cord. Various signs and symptoms can occur depending on the severity of the T-cell attacks and the location of the myelin damage. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Facial pain
  • Headaches
  • Loss of balance
  • Memory loss
  • Speech difficulties
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Eye problems
  • Hearing loss
  • Bowel and bladder problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Walking difficulties

Inflammatory attacks on the myelin and other structures of the central nervous systems can last for days and sometimes months. Periods of remission follow these attacks, characterized by no signs and symptoms. Remission periods can last for months, sometimes even years, during which the damaged nerves will try to repair themselves.

8 What Famous People Have Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is an immune-mediated disease affecting the central nervous system. People worldwide are diagnosed with this disease, usually between the ages of 20 and 50 years old. Multiple sclerosis can affect young children and elderly adults as well. This disease is more common among people of Northern Europe and Caucasians. Multiple sclerosis is more common among women than men.

It has been estimated that 2.3 million people are affected with this condition worldwide, among which some of them are famous and successful people in their professions.

Famous people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are:

Richard Pryor – a successful and well-known comedian. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986. Pryor died at the age of 65 in 2005.

Annette Funicello – a famous Disney Mousketeer. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987 and retired from acting in 1992 due to the disease. In 1993 Annette started the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders in order to help the research of this disease.

Richard Cohen – a CBS news journalist who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1973. He was only 25 years old when he was diagnosed.

Montel Williams – a successful talk show host. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. After being diagnosed, he created the MS Foundation in order to help the research of multiple sclerosis and educate the general population about this disease.

Teri Garr – an actress and comedian who was very famous in the mid-1970’s and early 1980’s. In 2002 she admitted that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society gave her the Ambassador of the Year Award.

Clive Burr – was a drummer of the famous band Iron Maiden from 1980 to 1982. He quit playing music after the disease had confined him to a wheelchair. The concert series Clive Aid started in 2004 in order to collect money and raise awareness for multiple sclerosis.

Jack Osbourne – the son of Ozzy Osbourne was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012 when he was only 26 years old.

Ann Romney – the wife of Mitt Romney, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. She played an important role in her husband’s campaign when he was a presidential candidate.

9 Does Multiple Sclerosis Get Worse Over Time?

Multiple sclerosis is a medical disease for which no cure has been found. This is a chronic condition with a slow progression, tending to get worse over time as more and more neurons and nerve fibers get damaged.

The disease is characterized by periods of progression and remission. The inflammatory attacks during which the myelin sheath of the brain and spinal cord get damaged can last for days and even months. These periods are followed by a complete or partial remission were the signs and symptoms tend to get better. Sometimes no signs and symptoms are present. The remission period lasts for months and even years.

The damaged structures of the central nervous system try to repair themselves during the remission period. Also during the remission phase, the nerve fibers tend to create new pathways in order to send the nerve impulses from the spinal cord to the brain and vice versa.

There are four types of multiple sclerosis and their progression is different:

  • Relapsing – remittent multiple sclerosis
  • Primary – progressive multiple sclerosis
  • Secondary – progressive multiple sclerosis
  • Progressive – relapsing multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is different for every patient so it is less likely to know exactly how the disease will progress and how fast it will get worse.

Fortunately, with the medical treatment that is available today, the progression of multiple sclerosis can be slowed down. This means a lot to all those diagnosed with this condition as multiple sclerosis affects the quality of life but not its longevity.

10 How Do People with MS Usually Die?

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic and long-lasting condition which has no cure. It affects the central nervous system leading to various signs and symptoms depending on the severity and localization of the damage in the brain and spinal cord.

Patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis do not directly die from this disease. Multiple sclerosis only affects the quality of life, but not its longevity. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis live only 7 years less than the general population. All those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are more likely to die from complications related to this condition, like an infection for example. If diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it is more likely to die from other common medical conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, etc.

As the disease is different in every patient, it is quite difficult to predict its progression over time. Only in cases of a rapid progression of the disease and severe disability. Once again, multiple sclerosis is not a fatal medical condition.