What is Multiple Sclerosis?
March is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Month. Multiple Sclerosis is an incurable neurological condition that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The body’s immune system attacks the protective myelin sheaths that cover the nerve fibers which cause areas of scarring, known as sclerosis. The immune system also attacks and destroys the fatty myelin coating that surrounds and insulates nerve cells which is a process known as demyelination.
Experts suggest there being 250,000-350,000 people in the United States currently living with this illness. There is an indication the rate of the disease is increasing regularly in the 20th century with approximately 200 new cases each week. Those of Northern European descent have a higher risk for the disease, but Native Americans of North and South America and Asian Americans are at a lower risk. The disease is much more common in colder climates.
There are four types of Multiple Sclerosis, all having different characteristics.
- Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS). This is the most common form, being that 85% of those with MS are initially diagnosed with. Patients with this form will have relapses and periods of stability in between the relapses. Relapses are the episodes when new or worsening symptoms that are not caused by fever or infection appear. These episodes typically lase more than 48-hours. Between relapses are periods of remission where there is no clinical evidence of disease progression. Periods of remission can last for years, but this can range from person to person.
- Secondary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS) can basically be considered the second phase of the disease. Most people that are initially diagnosed with RRMS will transition to this form at some point. Symptoms with SPMS will worsen steadily over time with or without occurrences of relapses or remission. There may or may not be times of relapses caused by inflammation, but will continue towards the progressive phase indicating nerve damage or loss. With this form of MS, the disability only continues to get worse.
- Primary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS) is less common than the other forms and only affects 10-15% of those with MS. On average people with PPMS start having symptoms between 35-39 years old. There is a slowly worsening of symptoms from the beginning with no relapses or remissions. With this type of MS there can be times of short-term, but temporary, minor improvements, however the decline of neurologic progression is constant. Symptoms of PPMS include pain, electric-shock-sensation running down the back and limbs when the neck is bent, trouble walking, vision problems, muscle weakness, trouble balancing, paralysis, numbness, prickling feeling, dizziness, shakiness, trouble thinking clearly, mood changes, depression, sexual problems, and trouble with bowel and bladder control.
- Progressive-Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis (PRMS) is a rare form of MS. There will be a steadily worsening of the state of the disease from the beginning with acute relapses, but no remission will occur. The symptoms of this form are the same as those with PPMS.
The first neurologic event suggesting MS is known as Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS), which usually lasts at least 24-hours. The symptoms will indicate a single lesion (Monofocal) or more than one lesion (Multi-focal) in the central nervous system (CNS). There are many symptoms involved with Multiple Sclerosis some being common and others being less common.
Common Symptoms Associated with Multiple Sclerosis
- Fatigue (Mental and Physical)
- Tingling or burning sensation in the arms, legs, trunk of body or face
- Vision issues (blurred or loss of vision)
- Stiff muscles
- Attention and memory issues
- Dizziness, vertigo, and clumsiness
- Trouble walking
Less Common Symptoms Associated with Multiple Sclerosis
- Speech problems
- Body tremors
- Hearing loss
- Itching for no reason
- Mood changes such as depression or euphoria
- Ability to concentrate or multi-task effectively
- Difficulty making decisions, planning or prioritizing
Secondary Symptoms that can develop
- Bladder and bowel problems
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sexual health issues
With all the possible symptoms one can experience, there are ways to manage most of them. Bladder control can be something one can experience and this can be rather embarrassing if it happens out in public, but there some suggested strategies to manage this.
- Drink enough fluids. The kidneys need at least 2 liters of water daily in order to flush waste products. Do not try rationing intake because this could increase the risk of infection.
- Time your drinks. Try to spread fluid intake evenly throughout the day.
- Limited caffeine and alcohol intake. Both of these can increase the amount of urination.
- Special exercises such as exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor.
- Continence aids such as disposable pad can be beneficial.
- Medication can be provided to reduce the urgency to urinate and help the bladder empty itself.
Pain with MS can be primarily due to the neurologic condition. Pain could also be due to secondary conditions, such as musculoskeletal issues as a result of altered posture or spasticity. The weakening of leg muscles tends to trigger aches and pain in the back or knees. The unfortunate truth is, people with Multiple Sclerosis can feel pain anywhere, but there are ways to help manage the pain which includes medication, physical therapy, and relaxation techniques.
Every person that lives with Multiple Sclerosis is different and deals with this illness in a way that serves them best. A person can experience similar issues as another but at the end of the day, we all handle it differently. Each symptom, relapse, remission, and medication affects each person vastly different but yet can understand what another person is going through. It is vital that no matter what stage the illness is, there needs to be an understanding of what our limitations are and to never push beyond that.
Thank you for visiting my site today! I hope the information I provided to you was helpful. There is a chance I have stated the same thing in previous years, but I do feel it is important for us to spread as much awareness as we can because it does not seem like this illness is going away anytime soon. I do want to believe that someday in our life time there will be a cure, but until then we must continue to live our lives the best we can. I hope you are having a great day and feeling the best you can. Please never forget that I am always sending y’all LOTS of love , comfort, and many positive vibes!
P.S I will be doing additional posts about MS during the month, but felt they needed to be separate posts because there is SO much information available. The crazy thing is, no matter how many years I have lived with MS, reading about it is a little upsetting.