What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). MS is an autoimmune disease; the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the cells of the nervous system. The immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers, eventually resulting in deterioration of the nerves and permanent damage of the nerves. MS is a disease with flares and symptom-free intervals. The symptoms of the disease become worse over time (relapsing), followed by periods of less severe symptoms (remitting) without asymptotic periods. The exact cause is not known but there are several risk factors, such as:
- Age: MS commonly occurs between 20 and 40 years of age but can occur at any age.
- Sex: Women are two to three times more prone to develop the disease than men.
- Family history: The risk of developing the disease increases if one of the parents, grandparents, or siblings have the disease.
- Certain infections: Infections like infectious mononucleosis (kissing disease) caused by the Epstein-Barr virus can increase the risk of MS.
- Race: People with lighter skin tone, especially those of Northern European descent, are at the highest risk of developing MS, while Asians have the lowest risk.
- Vitamin D deficiency: Having low levels of Vitamin D can increase the risk of MS.
- Other autoimmune diseases: Having other autoimmune disorders, such as psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), can increase the risk of MS.
- Smoking: Smoking may increase the risk of developing MS.
The signs and symptoms of MS vary depending on the nerves affected and the extent of nerve damage. MS can progress leading to permanent disabilities, while others may experience long periods of remission (asymptomatic periods) without any new symptoms. There is no cure for multiple sclerosis; however, there are several treatment options available to manage symptoms and modify the course of the disease and slow the progression. With treatment, most people with MS have a normal life expectancy. Without treatment, the disease progresses leading to debilitating complications.
What are the early signs of multiple sclerosis?
MS presents differently in different individuals affected. Some people may only have mild symptoms, while for others, it may be debilitating, losing the ability to read, write, speak, or walk. The twenty-four early symptoms of MS include:
- Numbness in the hands and feet
- Tingling and pins and needles sensation over the extremities
- Shooting pains in the back when in a hot shower
- Muscle pain and cramps
- Muscle stiffness
- Generalized body pain
- Increased frequency of urination and inability to hold urine
- Scanning slow speech
- Twitching of face muscles
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Loss of bowel control
- Facial pain
- Eye pain
- Decreased vision
- Diplopia (double vision)
- Intolerance to heat
- Fatigue and weakness
- Reduced attention span, concentration, memory, and judgment
- Personality changes
- Difficulty walking and maintaining balance
- The symptoms can worsen in women after menopause
What are the complications of multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis can lead to the following complications:
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WebMD. Multiple Sclerosis Health Center. https://www.webmd.com/multiple-sclerosis/default.htm