What to know about multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition of the central nervous system that affects about a million people in the United States – mostly young and mostly women. Neurologist Renu Pokharna, MD, explained some key information about the disease.
What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that destroys myelin, the protective lining around nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in lesions. They can occur anywhere in the entire axis of the central nervous system, from brain to spinal cord.
The most common form of the disease is called relapsing-remitting MS, in which symptoms come and go.
Who is at risk for multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis can start at a young age, usually between ages 20–40. It occurs more often in females – about two-thirds of those diagnosed with MS are female – and affects women at a younger age than men.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can include blurry vision, double vision, or deviations of the eyes, as well as loss of sensation or paralysis in one-half of the body.
If MS is in the cervical cord, then all four limbs will have tingling, numbness and maybe even paralysis. If there is a lesion in the cerebellum (or balance center), it can lead to poor muscle control and wobbliness.
Other symptoms that can occur include incontinence of the bladder, cognition problems and memory problems.
How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed and treated?
Patients with MS symptoms are often referred for an MRI of the brain. Sometimes blood tests might be needed as well as a spinal tap. However, a spinal tap is not necessary if the MRI shows lesions, and the history and clinical findings are corroborated.
Currently there are 24 FDA-approved medications for multiple sclerosis, including generic forms. The more conventional ones are injectables, followed by oral medications, then infusions. All medications are immune modulators or suppressants. They lower a patient’s immunity and delay disability by lessening the number of lesions on the brain and spinal cord.
“Although, unfortunately, we do not currently have any cure for multiple sclerosis, there are clinical trials that are searching to find out the cause. Epstein-Barr virus has been implicated but no vaccine or treatment is available at the present time.” Dr. Pokharna said.
If you are experiencing symptoms, it’s important to seek treatment. Getting a diagnosis early and treated early can help slow the progression of the disease.
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