Multiple Sclerosis: symptoms and treatment
With symptoms ranging from mild to disabling, a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) diagnosis can feel like an overwhelming change in your life. MS is a neurological disease that affects about 400,000 people in the U.S. It results from an attack by the immune system on the myelin in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Myelin is a fatty substance that covers the nerve fibers much like insulating material on an electrical wire. When the myelin is damaged, normal conduction through nerve pathways is disrupted.
Symptoms of MS
Multiple sclerosis most often appears for the first time in young adults and much less commonly in children and in the elderly. MS can be very difficult to diagnose properly because the symptoms are the same as those of many other diseases. Symptoms include:
Numbness or weakness of arms or legs
Loss of coordination
Disturbance of bladder function
The severity of these symptoms ranges from mild to disabling.
While no single test exists to diagnose MS, MRI scans are especially important, and tests of spinal fluid and of nerve conduction can sometimes be very helpful. Other neurological disorders that cause similar symptoms must be looked for and ruled out. In some cases the diagnosis of MS cannot be made with certainty until tests have been repeated over time.
Even with these measures, the expertise of neurologists who are trained and experienced in diagnosing and managing MS is critical to avoid missing the diagnosis when MS is present or mistakenly diagnosing MS when symptoms are caused by other disorders.
Multiple sclerosis treatment
While no cure has yet been discovered, multiple sclerosis treatment—including infusion therapy—is available and can reduce the chance of worsening of symptoms and of becoming disabled. Medications are often prescribed to help relieve symptoms and prevent future attacks. Your doctor may recommend:
Corticosteroid medications to relieve symptoms
Medications to reduce the chance of a new attack
Medications to relieve muscle stiffness, urinary bladder difficulties, pain and depression
All of these seem to be effective and they differ in how they are taken. We have learned that the greatest benefit in terms of avoiding future disability is achieved when treatment is started as soon as possible.
Living with MS
When living with MS, there are certain at-home steps you can take for your own multiple sclerosis treatment and care.
If possible, get help for daily tasks.
Limit stress when possible, because it can temporarily worsen symptoms.
Enroll in an aerobic exercise program to stimulate your muscles as much as you are able. Water aerobics is an excellent choice.
Do stretching and range-of-motion exercises to help with spasticity.
Be careful not to become overheated because this may make your symptoms worse. Use an air conditioner and other cooling measures in the summer and don't swim in overheated pools.
Join a support group to help you cope with the disease.
Avoid getting colds and the flu. Get an annual flu shot; the nasal vaccine, however, is not recommended for people with MS.
Talk to your doctor if your symptoms return or become worse.
Don't forget to have recommended tests and exams to detect other health conditions such as high blood pressure or cancer.
A person with MS often requires help from family or friends because of long-term physical, financial and psychological needs.
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