Get to know Multiple Sclerosis – It could Happen to You

English: Main symptoms of Multiple sclerosis. ...
Main symptoms of Multiple sclerosis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What would you do if the one thing you expect to protect you is the very thing that will cause you ultimate pain?

No, this isn’t a plot for sappy soap operas where the antagonist is secretly involved in some conniving, evil schemes to inflict pain and suffering to the protagonist. But sadly, this can happen, not only in soap operas, but in real life, too. And sometimes, it’s closer to home more than you can imagine. So close that it could happen in our own bodies.

The human body is so wonderfully created that it is able to protect itself from microbial attacks and bacterial contamination. It is equipped with an immune system that shields it from diseases and  infections.

How does the immune system to that?

When foreign particles or substances, like a virus or bacteria, enter the body, the immune system detects if these substances (antigens) are harmful. If they are, the body then reacts by producing combatives substances (antibodies) that will interlock with the antigens and eventually destroy them. Even after the antigens are destroyed, the immune system continues to work by ensuring that the same antigens will not have the same harmful effects on the body, thus making it “immuned”.

But, just like in soap operas, there can be unexpected twists and turns. It can happen in real life and it  can happen to you.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease where the  the body’s own immune system misinterprets some parts of central nervous system (like the brain and the spinal cord) as being alien or  foreign, thus requiring an attack. It attacks the insulating material around the nerves, called myelin and when it is destroyed, scar tissues form and nerve messages are not transmitted properly. The brain is not able to properly send and receive messages. The disease is aptly named because it can affect “multiple” nerves and Sclerosis is Greek for scarring which happens to the tissues when the nerves are damaged.

The nerves can regain myelin, but this process is not fast enough to outpace the deterioration that occurs in Multiple Sclerosis. Due to the location of the scar tissues and extent of demyelination, the early signs of  Multiple Sclerosis may vary from:

  • Visual disturbances such as patches of blurred vision, color desaturation (red-to-orange or  red-to-gray distortions) or monocular visual loss (loss of vision in one eye) are usually the first symptoms of MS, but they usually subside. Visual symptoms due to optic nerve inflammation (optic neuritis) are usually accompanied or preceded by eye pain.
  • Weakness or Numbness. Your limbs may easily weaken and  you may experience muscle spasms, numbness, pricking in the  legs or arms and electric shock sensations moving your back back, arms, or legs.
  • Coordination problems due to loss or difficulty of coordination  and dizziness may happen. This may result to frequent tripping and difficulty in walking.
  • Speech problems such as slurred speech are less common than vision problems, but could happen when MS damages the nerves that carry speech signals from the brain. Some people also have trouble swallowing.

In the early stages of the disease, people with MS experience relapses of symptoms, which are followed by periods of complete or partial remission. Studies have also shown that heat triggers and worsens the symptoms of MS. As the disease progresses, individuals may experience sexual dysfunction or reduced bowel and bladder control.

People with MS may also experience mental changes such as decreased concentration, attention deficiency, some degree of memory loss, inability to perform sequential tasks, impairment in judgment, depression, manic depression, paranoia, and uncontrollable urge to laugh and weep.

How is Multiple Sclerosis diagnosed?

The symptoms are vague and could be indicators of other conditions but if  you experience more than two of any and if the symptoms recur and last for more than 24 hours, then it may be best to consult a doctor  to have several tests done. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) will show if a patient has scar tissues and lesions in the brain. Abnormalities in the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord can be determined by a spinal tap. Tests to look at electrical activity of nerves (to show if they’re slow or normal moving) may also be done.

Though four hundred thousand in the United States  alone  have been diagnosed, and a reported 2.1 million had been affected worldwide (according to National MS Society), the cause of Multiple Sclerosis is still unknown. The following, according to research, may increase your risk factor of developing Multiple Sclerosis :

  • Being between the ages of 20 and 50. Although it may occur at any age, MS symptoms manifests in individuals between these ages.
  • Being female. Women are more prone to develop Multiple Sclerosis.
  • Having a family history. If one of your parents or siblings has had multiple sclerosis, you have a 1 to 3 percent chance of developing the disease.
  • Having certain infections. A variety of viruses have been linked to multiple sclerosis. Currently the greatest interest is in the association of Multiple Sclerosis with Epstein-Barr virus, the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis.
  • Living in countries with temperate climes. Multiple Sclerosis is far more common in Europe, southern Canada, northern United States, New Zealand and southeastern Australia. The risk seems to increase with latitude.
  • Having certain other autoimmune diseases. You’re very slightly more likely to develop multiple sclerosis if you have thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease.
Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis
A cure for MS is yet to be discovered, but medications that can reduce the frequency and severity of MS attacks are available. These drugs result to less damage to the brain and spinal cord over time and can slow the progression of the disability. Many medications are also available to manage nerve pain. Massage and physical therapy can alleviate muscle pain. Occupational therapy may help patients retain coordination of hands for reading and writing. A speech therapist can help with problems with speech and swallowing. Exercise, when slowly introduced to routine, can ease stiffness, fatigue, and loss of gait.
Multiple Sclerosis may sound scary but it does not always lead to severe disability . With early diagnosis, people with MS can live normal or near-normal lives,  and still enjoy their families and favorite activities.
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