What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, typically progressive disease which affects your spinal cord, brain, and the optic nerves present in your eyes. In severe cases, it can impair your vision, and interfere with muscle control and other basic body functions.
This long-standing disorder is more commonly seen in people aged between 20 to 50 years. Women are at a higher risk of getting this disease than men.
What causes multiple sclerosis?
The exact cause underlying multiple sclerosis is unknown. However, genetic factors such as alterations in the HLA-DRB1and IL7R genes potentially increase the risk of multiple sclerosis. Certain environmental factors also play a major role in its pathogenesis. Some of them are listed below:
- Exposure to certain viruses (especially Epstein-Barr virus, or human herpesvirus 6)
- Low levels of vitamin D
- Excessive salt intake in the diet
What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?
Following are the common symptoms observed during the course of multiple sclerosis:
- Numbness or weakness in limbs particularly felt on one side of your body at a time, or the legs and trunk
- Partial or complete vision loss, often associated with pain during eye movement
- Prolonged double vision
- Tingling or pain in the body
- Electric-shock sensations occurring with neck movements, mainly while bending the neck forward
- Lack of coordination or unsteady posture
- Slurred speech
- Altered bowel and bladder function
How to confirm if you have multiple sclerosis?
There’s no single test to confirm the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis; however, combination of physical examination and diagnostic tests can help reach a diagnosis. A relevant medical history along with key signs of nerve damage in your brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves may be helpful for a physician in ruling out multiple sclerosis. Blood tests also help in differentiating multiple sclerosis from similar diseases such as Lyme disease and AIDS. MRI, visual evoked potentials (examination for analysis of electrical activity of brain) and spinal fluid analysis are a few other investigations that aid in the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
How to manage multiple sclerosis?
Although multiple sclerosis cannot be completely cured, several management strategies can improve symptoms and keep the body working well. Doctors usually prescribe steroids or interferon beta-1α that make multiple sclerosis attacks less severe, or muscle relaxants that help ease out muscle spasms.
Physical therapy, such as regular exercises, helps in reducing fatigue and pain and also controls symptoms related to coordination and posture.
If multiple sclerosis is due to underlying autoimmune disorders, specific therapies should be undertaken to modify the disease process.
Managing multiple sclerosis is an ongoing process that involves high quality, comprehensive, interdisciplinary care. It is always advisable to start with the very first symptoms and continue throughout the disease course.