Multiple Sclerosis

Overview

Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease wherein the body’s own immune system attacks the myelin sheath around nerves making nerves unable to communicate. This can result in permanent damage and can impair the ability to control motor skills. This disease is difficult to detect in early stages due to the often sporadic nature of symptoms. Though there is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis, progression of the disease can often be slowed with proper treatment.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

In early stages of MS, the symptoms are often intermittent and may come and go making a diagnosis difficult. Common symptoms include changes in vision, eye pain and sensitivity to light, numbness, tingling, trembling or weakness in muscles. Patients may also experience coordination and balance problems, difficulty speaking and memory problems.

Doctors begin with a physical examination and review of medical history. Because several infections can cause neurological symptoms, it is important to rule these out first. A blood test cannot diagnose MS, but is often a starting point because it can rule out other infections. If the blood shows no abnormalities, doctors generally order a spinal tap. Abnormalities in spinal fluid can indicate multiple sclerosis or identify other disorders. Magnetic resonance imaging can give visual evidence of lesions that may be linked to multiple sclerosis, and stimuli testing can measure the brain’s response to physical stimuli. None of these tests alone is a definitive diagnosis, but used together are effective in diagnosing the disorder.

Causes

Doctors are unsure exactly what causes multiple sclerosis. Doctors do know that adults between the ages of 20 and 40 are most likely to be affected and women are more often affected than men. It is believed that MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own cells. This disorder is believed to be influenced by multiple factors including genetics and environment.  Continue for Prevention information . . .

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