Multiple sclerosis (MS) derives its name from its characteristic tendency to affect multiple sites of the central nervous system (nerves of the brain, spinal cord, and the eyes), multiple times leading to scars in these affected nerves (sclerosis). It is a long-lasting disease of the nervous system with good phases (no attacks or remission) and bad phases (relapses). Untreated the attacks continue and lead to permanent disability with loss of vision, limb power and difficulty in walking, speaking or swallowing and a disabled life.
MS affects about 5-20 per 100,000 people. The affected patients are mostly in their young productive years of life and more commonly females.
MS is believed to result from an abnormal response of the body to external environmental or infectious stimuli in genetically predisposed individuals (it is an autoimmune disease)
There are many uncertainties about MS including its cause, how it is diagnosed, nature of medicines to be taken and their lifespan. Many patients are afraid of MS. Patients must keep their apprehensions aside, and know that there is always a way out to lead a normal life. Through medical excellence, proper care, and treatment, it is now possible to control and reduce the symptoms for preventing further damage to the nervous system and preserve a normal functioning.
Some common symptoms of MS
The common symptoms of MS are:
- Difficulty in vision which may include partial loss of vision of one eye, blurring of vision, double vision
- Loss of dexterity of a limb – in case of upper limbs manifesting as difficulty in writing, doing fine work, difficulty in buttoning unbuttoning. In case of lower limbs manifesting as difficulty in wearing slippers, tripping over small objects.
- Weakness of a limb (arm/ leg)
- Numbness of a limb (arm/leg) or face
- Imbalance while walking
- Less commonly difficulty in speaking and swallowing, facial twitches, difficulty in passing and controlling urine
Symptom manifestation of MS depends on the site of the nervous symptom affected. Since different sites can be affected, symptoms can vary from patient to patient. Newly affected patients generally present with one symptom, most commonly affecting the vision, and in patients with a longer disease course, there is generally more than one symptom.
In the most common subtype/ form of MS, the symptoms occur episodically (relapse) and then may improve (remit) after some days (relapsing-remitting MS). With each relapse, a greater number of nerve cells are permanently lost translating into the loss of functionality and disability for the patient.
So awareness plays a vital role in recognizing MS early. This helps to get early treatment to prevent further progression of MS and preserve nerve cells functions.
What tests are needed to diagnose MS?
The first thing needed to diagnose MS in a clinically suspected patient is an MRI of the brain and spine. During MRI usually, an intravenous injection of “contrast” is given to help clarify things better. MS can be diagnosed easily by established internationally based criteria taking into consideration the clinical and MRI features.
Some additional tests may be done on a case by case basis if further diagnostic confirmation is required by the treating neurologist. These include:
Lumbar puncture: In this test, a thin needle is inserted under all sterile precautions into the low back to collect a few drops of a naturally occurring body fluid called CSF. The is done after giving local anesthesia at the site of prick making it more comfortable and nearly painless.
VEP (visual evoked potentials) and BERA (brainstem evoked response audiometry): These are painless tests which study the nerves of eye and hearing.
As in any disease, a basic blood work up is also required.
Is there a cure for MS?
Strictly speaking, cure means eradication of a disease by treating it with medicines for a particular time period. Presently medical science does not have a cure for MS. But today neurologists have a number of medicines to stop MS (relapsing remitting MS to be specific) from further progression and to preserve the functioning of remaining nerves, hence keeping the lives of MS patients normal or near to normal. These medicines are called disease modifying therapies. Due to this potential, these medicines are strongly recommended for most patients with relapsing remitting MS.
Disease modifying therapies are both injections and capsules. Till date injections can be taken either just under the skin or in the muscle. Further the injections are available in convenient forms for the patients to administer themselves. The injections can be taken biweekly, weekly or more frequent. Capsules have to be taken daily. All forms of MS therapies are readily available.
But be sure to visit a qualified neurologist to get yourself diagnosed rightly because there are diseases which mimic MS and their treatment is entirely different.
Here, at Max Healthcare, we become the companion of our patients helping them in controlling their MS symptoms and living a happy life. From the stage of diagnosis to the stage of treatment, our highly qualified doctors monitor every change and provide dedicated care and treatment.