- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms and Treatment
Multiple sclerosis (or MS for short) is not a particularly common disease, but it is one that can strike anyone, and it often attacks people in the prime of life rather than old age. It is a disease of the brain and spinal cord, and interferes with the brain's ability to control the body. Sufferers can experience difficulty in controlling an arm or leg, or cannot talk, or may have periods of blindness.
The cause of multiple sclerosis is not known precisely, but there are several theories. It is possibly due to an unidentified virus, or may be the result of the body's reaction to a virus. Viruses are so small that they cannot be seen under a normal microscope, and billions of them could fit on this full stop. There is increasing evidence that the measles virus may be responsible for MS in some patients. The other theory is that the body becomes allergic to itself, and starts attacking its own cells in an immune response. Rheumatoid arthritis is thought to be due to an immunological reaction like this, and the rejection of transplanted hearts and kidneys is caused by a similar reaction.
Many scattered parts of the brain and spinal cord are damaged with multiple sclerosis. The damaged areas occur at random, and when damaged, the area affected can no longer function properly. As a result, the symptoms of MS vary greatly from one patient to another. They usually have vision problems, unusual forms of paralysis, tremor, loss of balance, poor coordination, general tiredness and numbness.
To make the situation even more complex, the symptoms keep changing in any one patient because the damaged tissue can repair itself and start functioning again, while another area becomes damaged in the nervous system, causing yet another set of problems. When an area of nerve tissue is damaged, the electrical messages from the brain to the muscles cannot flow smoothly. Sometimes the message cannot get through at all, and paralysis results. At other times the message may go to the wrong place, causing abnormal movement or a tremor. Because of the varying nature of the condition, the diagnosis can be quite difficult to confirm. There is no simple laboratory test for MS, but combining a wide range of test results, measuring the activity of nerves, and scanning the brain with a magnetic resonance imaging scanner may build up a picture that fits the diagnosis.
Once the diagnosis is made, the patient is NOT condemned to life as an invalid. The disease goes through a series of attacks and remissions, and periods of good health can last for many months or years. Most patients can lead independent, active and satisfying lives and take care of their own needs for many years after the diagnosis is made.
The life span of victims is not significantly altered, but young adults are the most commonly afflicted age group. All that these people ask from the public is understanding. MS is not a mental disease, it is not contagious and it is not preventable. Unfortunately, no effective treatments are available to cure the disease either, but doctors combine with physiotherapists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists to help these young patients cope with a most unpredictable and distressing condition. A number of medications, particularly steroids, can be used to control and shorten acute attacks.