In simplest terms, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic auto-immune disease that causes damage to the protective sheaths of the nerve cells in your spinal cord and brain.
The cause of the disease isn’t fully understood yet, but recent studies highlight these potential triggers: genes, environment, viruses and problems with the immune system.
There are four types of MS, and each one of them can be mild, moderate or severe.
Relapsing-Remitting MS is the most common one, being found in 85% of people; this particular type causes worsening neurological attacks. The patient may go into remission for periods, and then relapse.
Primary-Progressive MS covers around 10% of people and has no remissions. It progressively gets worse over time.
Secondary-Progressive MS happens when people have short periods of remission or plateaus, but the disease gets worse gradually. Prior to current treatments, half of the people with Relapsing-Remitting MS would develop this type.
Progressive-Relapsing MS is the rarest type (5% of people.) In this case, people may have minor plateau periods, but the disease keeps getting worse.
There isn’t a specific test that can diagnose MS; however, an MRI test can help. Testing the spinal fluid through a lumbar puncture is another common test. Blood tests are usually done as well, in order to rule out other possibilities, including vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Another set of tests that can help are evoked sensory tests, which measure the amount of electrical activity in parts of your brain and the reactions to specific sensory input. There are three different tests that can be used.
The Brainstem Auditory test will measure your hearing through clicks in each ear, one by one. The Visual test uses a screen with alternating checkered patterns. The Sensory test uses electrical impulses sent to your arm or leg. These tests can be used to diagnose MS, but the results can be affected by numerous other factors, so the results aren’t 100% accurate. The good news is that all these tests are extremely safe.
Common Multiple Sclerosis symptoms may include: blurry vision, blindness, double vision, numbness, poor muscle coordination, fatigue, tingling, loss of balance, trouble swallowing, various forms of pain (stabbing sharp pain, burning pain, tingling, facial pain/neuralgia), constipation, diarrhea, incontinency and weakness in one or more of your limbs.
Less common symptoms may include: sudden paralysis, impaired speech, difficulty thinking and understanding what’s going on around you, and lack of coordination. Because MS is a progressive disease, you may also experience: sensitivity to heat, sexual disturbances, changes in the way you think or perceive things, short-term memory loss and severe fatigue.
If you have symptoms, you shouldn’t ignore them. Talk to your doctor and get tested. It is always wiser to be proactive, rather than reactive when it comes to your health. Although MS isn’t currently curable, it can be treated, especially if you catch it early enough.
Other medical conditions that may appear to be MS can include: multiple strokes, lupus, vitamin deficiencies, inflamed blood vessels, a brain infection and some stress-related conditions. So don’t assume you have MS if you have some or all of the symptoms mentioned above, as the cause may be different.
Nevertheless, if you have these symptoms, you must see your doctor and get tested. You can either be cleared of MS, or diagnosed and treated. Do not ignore the problem, because it will not go away on its own.