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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, unpredictable disease of the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, optic nerves and spinal cord. Many experts believe that MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system launches a defensive attack against its own tissues.
In MS the attack is on myelin, the substance that surrounds and insulates the nerve endings of the central nervous system. The loss of myelin interferes with the transmission of nerve signals, which produces the neurological signs and symptoms of MS including speech and mobility problems. MS is not contagious and is not directly inherited. It affects women more than men.
Two-thirds of those with multiple sclerosis remain able to walk, though many need an aid like a cane or crutches. Others will eventually need a scooter or wheelchair due to fatigue, weakness, balance problems, and as a way to conserve energy. No two people experience the disease the same way and symptoms vary considerably.
While there is no known cure for MS, various medications have been shown to slow the course of the disease itself. Other drugs help alleviate symptoms like bladder problems, fatigue, cognitive issues and sexual dysfunction.
People with MS often live a normal life span, though some struggle with productivity and other challenges due to the increasing limitations that the disease prevents. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society progress in research to identify a cure for the disease is very encouraging.
Wellstar neurologists specialize in treating people with MS. Our physicians are experienced, compassionate and focused on helping patients get the best possible treatment, learn to manage symptoms and live full and productive lives.
Types of MS
There are four primary types of multiple sclerosis.
The first symptoms of the disease (such as blurred or double vision, red-green color distortion or blindness in one eye) often appear between age 20 and age 40. Other common symptoms include:
These symptoms may be permanent or they may come and go; when the disease is severe symptoms persist on a permanent basis. People with MS may experience other complications such as:
If you have any of these or are concerned about other symptoms, make an appointment to see your Wellstar physician or neurologist. The sooner you can identify or rule out a diagnosis of MS the better.
Although the exact causes of multiple sclerosis are not known, researchers have concluded that certain factors increase the chance of getting it. Genetic and environmental factors play a role, as do gender and geography. Risk factors include:
There are many mistaken ideas regarding contributors to MS. For example, there is no scientific evidence that factors like injury, shock, pregnancy or vaccinations cause the disease.
Multiple Sclerosis cannot be prevented. However there are many steps patients can take to reduce or lessen symptoms and to live more successfully with MS. Other actions can help improve overall health and reduce the chance of getting other diseases.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “Wellness is a dynamic state of physical, emotional, spiritual and social well-being that can be achieved even in the presence of a chronic illness or disability.” Wellstar physicians endorse the following general recommendations. Your doctor will make specific recommendations as part of an overall treatment plan.
There is no single symptom, test or physical finding that can definitively confirm a diagnosis of MS. Your Wellstar neurologist will start with a careful medical history to learn more about a patient’s symptoms, birthplace and other possible factors.
The doctor will also conduct an in-depth neurological exam to assess mental, emotional and language functions; balance, movement and coordination as well as a patient’s sensory functioning.
To definitively diagnose multiple sclerosis a physican is required to:
These are known as the McDonald Criteria and are regularly assessed and revised by the International Panel on the Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
In some patients medical and neurological tests are enough to confirm a diagnosis. Other times, the doctor will recommend additional tests including:
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis but increasingly sophisticated medications treat the condition by controlling symptoms and reducing the frequency and severity of MS attacks. Other treatments may slow the progression of disability.
Wellstar neurologists agree that early treatment is essential to potentially delaying disability related to MS. Aggressive management of the disease is linked to more favorable outcomes and a better quality of life.
Nine FDA approved disease-modifying medications are now available. They help reduce the frequency and severity of attacks, reduce the accumulation of lesions (damaged areas) in the brain and may slow the course of the disease overall.
The drugs are:
Steroid treatments have also proven successful in shortening the duration of acute MS attacks by reducing swelling and inflammation of lesions. You will want to discuss these and other medications in detail with your neurologist who will explain the benefits and possible side effects of those recommended for you.
Some patients prefer not to take medications due to concerns about side effects and risks.
Researchers continue to actively pursue a number of new therapies including the recent discovery that a vaccine used in some parts of the world to prevent tuberculosis (BCG) may help prevent early signs of MS from developing into the full blown disease.
Ask your Wellstar neurologist if you quality for any current clinical trials. These let patients participate in the latest research and take advantage of emerging MS drugs and treatments.
In addition to medications that address the disease itself, other therapies treat symptoms including pain, bladder problems, fatigue, spasticity, weakness, cognitive problems and sexual dysfunction.
Another type of “treatment” is lifestyle alterations like eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and managing stress. Most important is to adhere to the treatment plan agreed to with your doctor.
Rehabilitation to enhance function is an essential part of treatment for many people with MS. If appropriate in your situation, your neurologist will discuss rehab services provided by Wellstar’s expert therapists.
Some patients find relief from symptoms through a variety of alternative techniques including food supplements, stress management and lifestyle changes. These therapies come from various disciplines and traditions such as yoga, hypnosis, relaxation techniques, herbal healing, Chinese medicine, macrobiotics, naturopathy and others.
While MS is a challenging condition, many people with the disease live long and satisfying lives as parents, employees and members of their communities. You will likely have many questions for your doctor. We want you to know that the Wellstar neuroscience team is here for you from diagnosis through and beyond treatment.
In addition to doctors and nurses, the team includes experts in areas like emotional and cognitive changes, personal relationships, mobility challenges and getting the assistance you need to live as symptom free as possible.
Wellstar offers smoking cessation programs that educate people about smoking risks, encourage behavior modification to help minimize smoking urges and offer numerous coping strategies. Several different methods for changing smoking behavior are explored so that individuals learn approaches that work best for them.