Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a long-lasting disease that can affect your brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves in your eyes. It can cause problems with vision, balance, muscle control, and other body functions. The effects are different for most people who have the disease. Therefore, some patients have mild symptoms and do not need treatment. Others will have trouble getting around and doing daily tasks. Multiple sclerosis occurs when your immune system attacks a fatty material called myelin, which wraps around your nerve fibers to protect them. Without this outer shell, your nerves become damaged. In addition, scar tissue may also form.
The damage means your brain cannot send signals through your body correctly. Your nerves also don’t work as they should to help you move and feel.
Causes & Symptoms
Currently, doctors do not know for sure what causes multiple sclerosis, but there are various things that seem to make the disease more likely. People with certain genes may have higher chances of getting it. Some people may develop multiple sclerosis after they’ve had a viral infection that makes their immune system stop working normally. The infection may trigger the disease or cause relapses.
People with multiple sclerosis experience a wide range of symptoms. Due to the nature of the disease, symptoms can vary widely from individual to individual. They can also change in severity from year to year, month to month, and even day to day.
Here are some of the most common symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis:
- Trouble walking – Having difficulty walking can happen with multiple sclerosis due to numbness in your legs / feet, difficulty balancing, muscle weakness, muscle spasticity, and difficulty with your vision. Having trouble walking can also lead to injuries if you fall.
- Fatigue – Around 80% of patients with multiple sclerosis report having fatigue, therefore, fatigue that happens with multiple sclerosis can make it harder for you to perform everyday activities.
- Electric-shock sensations – This occurs with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward.
- Tremor – The lack of coordination.
- Problems with your vision – Vision problems are often some of the first symptoms for many patients with multiple sclerosis. Vision problems may affect one or both eyes. These issues can come and go, or worsen over a period of time. They can also resolve entirely. Some common vision problems associated with multiple sclerosis include optic neuritis (causes pain or blurry vision in a single eye), diplopia (double vision), nystagmus (involuntary movement of the eyes), and blindness.
- Speech issues – Multiple sclerosis causes lesions in the brain that can affect speech. These speech issues (also known as dysarthria) can range from mild to severe. Symptoms of dysarthria can include slurred speech, “scanning” speech (long pauses in between words or syllables), and sudden changes in volume of speech.
Other fairly common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:
- Difficulty chewing and swallowing
- Sleep issues
- Problems with bladder control
- Acute or chronic pain
- Cognitive issues involving concentration, memory, and word-finding
Who gets Multiple Sclerosis?
It is unclear to understand why multiple sclerosis develops in some people while others are less likely. There are cases that a combination of genetics and environmental factors are responsible. Here are some risk factors that may increase your risk of developing multiple sclerosis:
- Gender – Women are more than 2-3 times as likely as men are to have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
- Age – Multiple sclerosis can occur at any age, but onset typically happens around 20 and 40 years of age. Therefore, younger and older people can be affected.
- Infections – A variety of viruses have been linked to multiple sclerosis, including Epstein-Barr.
- Genetics – If one of your family relatives has had multiple sclerosis, you may be at risk of developing the disease.
- Smoking – Smokers who experience an initial event of symptoms that may signal multiple sclerosis are more likely than non-smokers to develop a second event that confirms relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
- Climate – Multiple sclerosis is far more common in countries with temperate climates, including the northern United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe.
- Lack of vitamin D – Having low levels of vitamin D and low exposure to sunlight is associated with a higher risk of multiple sclerosis.
- Autoimmune diseases – You have a higher risk of developing multiple sclerosis if you have other autoimmune disorders such as thyroid disease, pernicious anemia, psoriasis, type-1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease.
How Does it Affect You? How Serious is it?
While some types of diseases are categorized by various amounts of the same disease broken down into subtypes, multiple sclerosis is associated with more than 1 type, which are:
Primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS)
If you have primary progressive multiple sclerosis, the neurological function becomes progressively worse from the onset of your symptoms. However, short periods of stability can occur. The terms “active” and “not active” are oftentimes used to describe disease activity with new or enhancing brain lesions.
Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS)
Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis involves clear relapses of disease activity followed by remissions. During remission periods, symptoms are mild or absent, and there’s mild to moderate disease progression.
Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)
CIS is a pre-multiple sclerosis condition involving 1 episode of symptoms lasting at least 24 hours. Although this episode is a characteristic of multiple sclerosis, it isn’t enough to prompt a diagnosis.
Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS)
Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis occurs when relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis transitions into the progressive form. You may still have noticeable relapses in addition to a disability or gradual worsening of function.
Generally, most patients living with multiple sclerosis may develop other complications, such as muscle stiffness, paralysis, mental changes (such as forgetfulness or mood swings), depression, and epilepsy.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation
Throughout a diagnosis for this disease, it can be very difficult to diagnose multiple sclerosis, since its symptoms can be the same as many other nerve disorders. If your doctor thinks you have MS, they will want you to see a specialist who treats the brain and nervous system, called a neurologist. They will ask you about your medical history and check you for key signs of nerve damage in your brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
Below are a few tests your doctor will use to diagnose MS:
This can reveal affected areas of multiple sclerosis on your brain and spinal cord. You may receive an intravenous injection of a contrast material to highlight lesions that indicate your disease is in an active phase.
This is where a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid is removed from your spinal canal for lab analysis. This sample can show abnormalities in antibodies that are associated with multiple sclerosis. A spinal tap can also help rule out infections and other conditions with symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis.
This test helps to rule out other diseases with symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis.
Within non-surgical treatments, your doctor can prescribe corticosteroids to help treat relapses. Other drugs that may slow your multiple sclerosis symptoms include cladribrine, dalfampridine, ozanimod, siponimod, and teriflunomide.
Physiotherapy for patients with multiple sclerosis focuses on helping them return to the roles performed at home, work, and in the community. Following an examination, a physiotherapist will develop a specific exercise program for you based on your condition and goals, including some exercise examples:
Patients with multiple sclerosis may find aquatic exercise a beneficial way to increase their activity. Pool temperature can help maintain a regular core body temperature during exercise to support your strength. The buoyancy of water can offer support for people who cannot walk on solid ground, and provide gentle resistance to exercise movements.
Other types of exercise therapy include strengthening for the arms and legs, balance training, stretching activities, and relaxation techniques. These types of exercise have been found to improve walking, ability, leg strength, and general balance during regular activities.
The following exercises below will help improve your strength, balance, and coordination for those who are experiencing multiple sclerosis:
Begin by lying on your back on the floor or a mat, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor and your arms by your side. Then, squeeze your butt and raise your hips off the floor to form a bridge. Finally, hold for a few breaths then slowly lower back down. Repeat this method with 2 sets of 3 repetitions a day.
Side arm raise
Begin by sitting straight up in a chair, arms down by your sides and relaxed. Look straight ahead, with your head, shoulders, and hips in one straight line. Slowly raise your arms out to the sides to shoulder height, palms facing down. Lower your arms back down to your sides and repeat with 2 sets of 3 repetitions a day.
Overhead arm raise
Begin by sitting straight up in a chair, arms down by your sides and relaxed. Next, look straight ahead, with your head, shoulders, and hips in one straight line. Slowly raise your arms overhead, biceps in line with ears, palms facing away from you. Keep your elbows and wrists straight and shoulders relaxed away from your ears. Lower your arms back down and repeat 3 times a day.
Begin by sitting straight up in a chair, arms down by your sides and relaxed. Look straight ahead with your head, shoulders, and hips in one straight line. Afterward, hold a rolling pin, umbrella, or 1-pound weight in each hand to start. Next, place your forearms on a table in front of you, palms facing down. Lift the object by extending your wrist, pulling your hands toward you. Keep your forearms on the table then lower back down and repeat 3 times a day.
Side leg raise
Begin by standing with your feet slightly apart, weight evenly distributed on both feet. Lift your right leg out to the side, keeping your knee straight and toes pointing forward. Hold for 5 seconds, then lower back down and repeat 3 times a day.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment
Certain alternative treatments include healthy eating and resting in order to stay in great health overall while improving symptoms linked to multiple sclerosis. Here are some home remedies you can try at home:
- Diet – Although there is no conclusive evidence suggesting certain diets can treat the condition, plenty of scientific data shows that certain foods may reduce inflammation or offer other benefits; many patients with multiple sclerosis have reported their symptoms subsiding with dietary changes.
- Acupuncture – Using acupuncture is able to reduce pain, muscle spasticity, numbness, and tingling in multiple sclerosis patients.
- Cranberries – For people with multiple sclerosis who often experience urinary tract infections, cranberry supplements may be helpful as they do not usually cause side effects.
- Vitamins D – Patients who do not get enough vitamin D may have worse symptoms of multiple sclerosis. A high vitamin D intake may also reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
- Massage therapy – Many people with multiple sclerosis get massage therapy to help the muscles relax and reduce stress and depression.
- Cooling therapy – Cooling therapy can involve ways to lower body temperature. Additionally, there are equipment (such as custom vests, collars, and wrist bands filled with frozen gel) that can help cool your body temperate down.