What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) 

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The disease causes an auto-immune response (inflammation) in which the immune system attacks the protective covering of nerve fibers. This covering, the myelin sheath, can then no longer conduct fluid or smooth communication between the brain and the body, causing disruption of the messages.

MS is very unpredictable, making no two cases alike, however, symptoms can be similar from person to person. In some individuals their disease or symptoms may be mild while others may be more affected causing more disability.

There presently is no cure for MS, however, there are numerous treatment options designed to slow progression of the overall disease as well as medications to manage symptoms effectively. It is believed that a genetic susceptibility, immune system abnormalities and certain environmental factors that link to activate the disease.

MS can be divided into 4 categories or disease types.

Relapsing -Remitting MS: (RRMS)

This type of MS is the most common form. It is defined or referred to as the onset of neurological symptoms or attacks of new or increasing symptoms. These attacks, or exacerbations are followed by periods of remission (partial or complete recovery). When in remission, symptoms can go away or they may continue and become life-long. RRMS can also be a time when active disease is present or the disease is not active. It can also be when symptoms associated with MS can worsen or may not worsen. Keep in mind that disease activity or disease course is not the same for every person with a diagnosis of MS. When initially receiving this diagnosis or confirmation of it, most people, about 85-90% will fit into this type of MS disease.

Secondary – Progressive MS: (SPMS)

This type of MS typically follows the original diagnosis of RRMS. Some individuals with RRMS will move to SPMS which is characterized by a progressive worsening of neurologic function over a period of time. This can be thought of as an accumulation of disability. Disability usually will increase over time, though it may be gradual in this particular disease course.

Primary – Progressive MS: (PPMS)

This type of MS is described as the type with worsening neurologic function from the very onset of symptoms without relapses or periods of remission. About 15% of individuals diagnosed with multiple sclerosis fall into this category.

Clinically – Isolated Syndrome: (CIS)

This type of MS involves a first episode of some neurologic symptom caused by inflammation and demyelination in the central nervous system. This must last for 24hrs and is typical in MS but does not yet meet the specific diagnosis criteria. A person with CIS may or may not develop multiple sclerosis. It is always a good idea when this occurs to seek out a neurologist for further testing and information.

Symptoms Associated with Multiple Sclerosis:

Again, please keep in mind that MS symptoms vary from one person to another. There are also many neurological diseases which may have similar symptoms as those in MS. It is important to always seek medical expertise to evaluate, through testing, what exactly is going on.

Symptoms may also range from mild to more severe. Depending on the location of affected areas of the brain, spinal cord and/or optic nerves, symptoms will differ.

Symptoms can include:

· Numbness or weakness in one of more limbs typically on one side of the body

· L’hermitte’s sign which involves an electric-shock like feeling during certain neck movements

· Tremors

· Issues with balance and coordination

· Unsteady gait (walking) may involve foot drop thereby making stumbling, tripping, falling present

· Vision Disturbances including double vision, blurred vision, partial or complete vision loss

· Fatigue – that feeling that you hit a brick wall and cannot do one more thing

· Dizziness or Vertigo

· Slurred Speech

· Tingling or pain sensations in the body

· Bowel Issues

· Bladder Issues

· Sexual Dysfunction

· Spasticity – the sensation of feeling stiff or having muscle spasms

· Cognitive Issues – this includes the inability to process information whether coming in large or small amounts, difficulty learning and remembering new information, trouble organizing data, issues with problem-solving and problems with focusing.

· Depression and Emotional Changes

· Hearing loss – this is usually very rare in MS

· Seizures

· Swallowing Problems

There are also psycho-social problems or tertiary symptoms such as losing the ability drive which can result in job loss. This then creates stress, financial hardship, family strain, relationship problems, and isolation. Having a support system in place has been shown to help a person with MS cope better and manage their disease more successfully.

More Information Available

Books and pamphlets are available to learn more on MS through MS Resources Lending Library. Click here for information. https://msrofcny.org/lending-library/

MS Drug Therapies

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several disease-modifying therapies to help treat all types of MS. The FDA indicates which drug can be used for which type of MS. For a list of Drug Therapies click here.  https://msrofcny.org/education/understanding-medications-to-help-treat-your-ms/