Nearly 1 million adults in the U.S. are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the recent MS Prevalence study sponsored by National MS Society. This central nervous system disease affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves in the eyes.
Unpredictability is the hallmark of multiple sclerosis (MS) because symptoms range from minor to debilitating – and progression can be slow or rapid.
The 3 Diagnostic Types of Multiple Sclerosis are:
- Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) is the most common form and most people with MS are initially diagnosed with RRMS. It’s signaled by temporary periods of flare-ups (relapse) and other times when symptoms disappear (remission).
- Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS) is when symptoms worsen steadily. People tended to progress from RRMS to SPMS around 10-15 years after the first diagnosis.
- Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS) is a slow worsening of symptoms from the beginning with no relapses or remissions.
Multiple Sclerosis: An Overview
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack the central nervous system and damage the coating around nerves (myelin) with subsequent neuronal damage as well. This damage disrupts the sending and receiving of messages in the brain and between the brain and the body – resulting in symptoms which can affect vision, balance, muscle control and other bodily functions.
Symptoms of MS Include:
- Numbness or tingling
- Weakness, dizziness and vertigo
- Difficulty walking
- Spasticity/stiffness/muscles spasms
- Vision problems
- Bladder problems
- Pain and itching
- Emotional changes/depression
- Cognitive changes
- Sexual problems
Some of the less common symptoms include speech and swallowing problems, tremors and seizures, breathing problems and hearing loss.
How is MS Diagnosed?
Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. There is no single test for MS, so the diagnostic process generally involves a thorough medical history, a neurologic exam and tests including an MRI, spinal fluid analysis and blood tests which rule out other conditions. Diagnosis requires evidence of damage in two separate areas of the central nervous system. Plus, evidence that damage occurred at two different times.
What causes MS remains unknown. Researchers believe a combination of factors may be involved and are currently studying genetic, infectious, immune system and environmental factors. They have determined that women are more than two to three times as likely as men to have MS. A family history of MS puts you at a little bit higher risk of developing the disease.
Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis
Treating multiple sclerosis is an individual process because each case is different. There is no cure, but much can be done to manage symptoms, aid recovery from attacks and slow disease progression. Treatment options include oral and injectable medications and infusions treatments. Physical therapy can also help with MS symptoms.
For some, symptoms are mild and require no treatment. Close monitoring is necessary as disease progression can occur without obvious physical symptoms.
History of Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Options
Historically, multiple sclerosis has been difficult to treat because there were no available treatment options before 1990's. The good news for those with MS is there are multiple new medications that have been approved since then, which have shown promise in slowing the progression of the disease. In fact, most of them that were approved were for the most common, relapsing-remitting form of MS.
In 2017 and 2019, two new medications were introduced for the treatment of MS. These medications were approved in the area in which previously we didn’t have medication options, and were also approved for relapsing-remitting forms of MS
While none of these medications are considered a cure, with early initiation, therapy can really change the disease course significantly. The bottom line is people with MS now have more hope and much better chances for good outcomes.
If you have questions or feel you need to be tested for MS, reach out to your provider.