Multiple Sclerosis affects nearly 1 million people living in the United States — with about 200 new patients being diagnosed every week. Being diagnosed with MS is life-changing and can cause significant distress, so it’s essential to know what the symptoms are, as well as your treatment options.
Multiple Sclerosis, also known as MS, is a disease that can affect your brain, spinal cord, and the optical nerves in your eyes. This often causes difficulties with muscle control and balance, as well as problems with your vision.
When you have MS, your immune system attacks the myelin sheath that protects your nerve fibers. Without the protection of the myelin sheath, your nerves become damaged, and scar tissue forms — this makes it difficult for your brain to send signals to the rest of your body.
MS symptoms vary significantly between patients, with some people experiencing mild symptoms that need no treatment, and others experiencing a severe reduction in their quality of life.
Eyesight problems are commonly an early symptom of MS. This is due to inflammation of the optic nerve and can result in blurred vision, double visions, dark spots, and even complete loss of vision in one eye. Most of these problems are treatable, so it’s essential to have your eyes checked annually.
Another early symptom of Multiple Sclerosis is a tingling sensation felt in your limbs and face. At first, this may start out mild and be a nuisance, rather than painful, but over time the tingling tends to get worse.
Other early warning signs of MS include feeling tired easily, dizziness, difficulty breathing, muscle spasms, bladder problems, and cognitive issues.
Multiple Sclerosis can be difficult to diagnose, so your healthcare provider will typically try to rule out other more common autoimmune diseases.
An MRI scan of your brain and spinal cord can be used to detect whether your nerve fibers are protected by a myelin sheath. If there is evidence of demyelination, this is a sign that your immune system is behaving abnormally.
Another way to test for MS is to collect cerebrospinal fluid via a lumbar puncture. Your cerebrospinal fluid is then tested to see if increased levels of IgG antibodies, or a high white blood cell count are present — both of these can be indicative of MS.
Multiple Sclerosis is an incurable disease; however, you can manage your symptoms and try to prevent flare-ups. The main aim of MS treatments is to slow down the damage it can cause to your spinal cord and brain.
As inflammation is the main cause of most MS symptoms, patients often find relief from corticosteroids to help manage their flare-ups. Another treatment option is plasma exchange therapy. Therapeutic Plasma Exchange (TPE) uses the patient’s own blood and passes it through an apheresis machine. The apheresis machine filters the plasma out of the blood and discards it. The blood is then reinfused with red blood cells, and replacement plasma, and injected back into the patient.
In addition to the above treatment options, many drugs can help treat the associated fatigue, muscle spasms, and chronic pain associated with MS.
Although it can be difficult, physical therapy often benefits patients with MS. As stress can be a trigger for MS flare-ups, alternative treatment options that encourage a healthy lifestyle may be beneficial — this includes maintaining a nutritious diet, supplementation, massage, meditation, and acupuncture.
Living with Multiple Sclerosis can be challenging for both you and your loved ones. However, it’s important to remember that it’s possible to live a fulfilling life, as long as you manage your care efficiently.
If you have MS, there are many resources online that can help you understand your condition, as well as support groups that can provide you and your loved ones with advice and reassurance. It’s essential to educate yourself about your treatment options and try to keep a positive outlook.
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