Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the protective myelin sheath of the nerves is damaged, affecting the transmission of messages to and from the brain and spinal cord. This is a progressive, debilitating disease that results in nerve deterioration which is, unfortunately, an irreversible process. In this disease, the body’s own immune system attacks the nerves and affects a number of functions, like coordination, vision, and balance. This is one of the most common causes of neurological disability and it starts during middle age. The actual cause of the disease is not known yet.
As multiple sclerosis affects nerves, the symptoms may occur in different parts of the body. The symptoms usually begin between the ages of 20 and 40-years-old, during which time it is mild and often remains unnoticed. The symptoms depend on the types of nerves affected and the amount of damage caused. Symptoms may vary from one person to another.
Some of the most common symptoms of this condition include:
- Problems with vision: This condition is characterized by blurred and double vision. One eye may also have partial or complete loss of vision. In some cases, pain may be felt as the person moves the eyes due to inflammation of the optic nerve.
- Reduced cognitive ability: Problems like memory loss, lack of concentration, inability to perform certain tasks, and impaired judgement are common as nerves degenerate.
- Lack of coordination: In the early stages, weakness of limbs is combined with difficulty in coordination and balance.
- Numbness and tingling sensation: This is common on one side of the body, usually in one of the limbs.
- Weakness and fatigue: Almost all patients with multiple sclerosis are affected by fatigue, which prevents them from functioning properly at home and the office.
- Problems with bladder control: Frequent urge to pass urine and difficulty emptying the bladder fully is one of the common symptoms of this condition.
- Difficulty walking: Muscle weakness and spasms make walking hard. Added to it is numbness in the limbs and lack of coordination.
- Speech difficulties: Slurred speech and longer pauses between words are common in this condition. As the disease progresses, some may find swallowing very hard as well.
- Tremors: Tremors are common in people with multiple sclerosis. They may range from very mild to severe and hinder day-to-day activities.
Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis in a Person
Accepting multiple sclerosis in a loved one can be difficult for many people. However, once the condition is diagnosed, there is room for treatment. Hence, once symptoms of MS are seen in a person, a consultation with a specialist should be made to confirm the diagnosis of MS. Multiple sclerosis has no specific set of tests, but is usually made after ruling out the possibilities of other conditions that have similar symptoms.
As a diagnostic procedure, the doctor may recommend a few medical examinations and a complete analysis of the patient’s medical history. Based on this understanding, the doctor may recommend the following:
- Blood tests: Blood tests help rule out other potential diseases that have symptoms very similar to MS. Tests are being developed for MS prognosis, and once they are released, diagnosing the disease more accurately may become easier.
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): In this procedure, a sample of spinal fluid is obtained from the spinal canal for testing in the laboratory. Technicians look for abnormalities in antibodies that are indicative of MS. Spinal tap testing can again help rule out the chance of infections and various conditions that are known to have symptoms like MS.
- MRI: A scan that helps understand the brain and spinal cord better to look for areas of MS symptoms. An IV injection of a contrast color may be administered that highlights the areas affected by the disease in an active phase.
- Evoked potential tests: This is a test conducted to understand the stimuli produced by the body, which are recorded through electric signals produced by the nervous system. An evoked potential test may record a patient’s stimuli response through visual or electrical mediums.
In most cases of MS, there is a specific pattern that makes the diagnosis of the disease quite clear and easy. It is then confirmed by a brain scan.
It can become more difficult to diagnose MS in people who show symptoms that are not usual signs of the disease; they could indicate a more progressive form of the disease. In these cases, further tests (mentioned above) may be conducted for better clarity on the condition.
Managing a Loved One Suffering from MS
MS as a disease doesn't affect one part of the body, but directly impacts the central nervous system, which is the brain of the body, controlling all of its functions. MS largely affects all functions of a person, including their thinking, walking, speech, and almost every other bodily function. However, despite the seriousness of this disease, taking good care of the person suffering from it and sticking to a sound treatment plan can help manage the condition, as well as prevent it from worsening. There are several lifestyle modifications that can greatly manage the symptoms of MS. Some of these changes can be easily enacted at home and include:
- Eating nutritious foods: There is no typical MS diet, but a well-balanced, healthy diet can go a long way in managing this disease. The usual approach experts recommend for MS patients is a healthy diet that includes a number of fruits and vegetables, proteins, and omega 3 fatty acids.
- Stay Active: MS as a disease can start worsening in no time. It is extremely crucial to maintain an active lifestyle in every way possible. In spite of how severe the disease is, regular exercise can help manage the symptoms better by keeping up the body’s flexibility, maintain balance, and also help deal with MS complications like constipation, insomnia, and other issues. Walking, yoga, swimming, or tai chi are fantastic exercise options for patients suffering from MS symptoms. While being active is one side of the treatment, it is important not to overdo any activity that may cause strain on the body.
- Keep the brain functional: Apart from physical exercise, mental exercise should also be an important part of managing symptoms. MS patients find it more difficult to use the brain and perform a specific job compared to other healthy people. Activities that use the brain, like crosswords puzzles, games, dance classes, or any other activity that engages the brain better, should certainly be a part of MS treatment. Social interaction is also an important aspect.
- Get adequate sleep: Sleep plays an important part of any treatment, including that of MS. When the body is fighting an infection or an illness, sleep becomes very crucial to help deal with the symptoms. Avoid excessive fluids before sleep that could cause you to wake up often to pass urine. Sound sleep is certainly very helpful in better managing the disease.
- Vitamin D supplements: There is a certain relation between vitamin D insufficiency and MS, though scientists aren't exactly sure what it is. Vitamin D scanning should be done to ensure that the levels of vitamin D seem right in the body, and if there is a deficiency, it should be corrected using supplements.
- Depression: Depression comes naturally to people suffering from MS due to various reasons, like the impact on brain functioning and the fact that they are now dependent on others for various activities. It is important to consult the doctor if symptoms of depression are seen in a patient suffering from MS.
- Get rid of unhealthy habits: To improve overall health, it is crucial for patients to completely get rid of bad habits, including smoking. Smoking is a big risk factor that can cause several complications for MS patients. While the habit is unhealthy for everyone in general, people suffering from MS especially should stay away from it. Alcohol intake should also be reduced, as even a little overdose can worsen some neurological conditions associated with MS, including a complete loss of balance.