Multiple Sclerosis or MS is a neurological condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. It can be mild or severe, with symptoms including blurred vision, trouble with moving the arms and legs properly, balance issues, and tiredness. Severe cases can lead to serious disability, but symptoms can vary widely from person to person.
MS is a progressive, lifelong condition most commonly diagnosed in the 20s and 30s and one of the most common causes of disability in younger adults. It’s around three times more common in women than in men and reduces life expectancy by around 5-10 years (though this is decreasing all the time).
Causes of MS
MS is an autoimmune condition caused when the immune system goes haywire and attacks healthy cells – in MS, the myelin sheath. This is the layer that surrounds and protects our nerves, so people with MS suffer nerve damage that disrupts messages from the brain.
Getting a Diagnosis
Because the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis are so varied, it can be challenging to know what you’re looking for. If you have a combination of any of the below, see your doctor just to have it ruled out. These are some of the most common symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty walking
- Issues with bladder control
- Numbness and tingling
- Muscle spasms
- Problems with balance
- Difficulty concentrating
MS symptoms can come and go or worsen over time. It depends on the type of MS diagnosed. When you talk to your doctor, be specific about any flareups or points where symptoms disappear. It will help them understand better what you’re experiencing.
If your doctor suspects you have Multiple Sclerosis, they will refer you to a neurologist for an MRI.
Treatments for MS
MS currently has no cure, but there are several treatments available to help sufferers manage their condition. What treatments are offered depends on the specific symptoms displayed by individual patients, but may include steroids or therapy to reduce the number and severity of relapses. There’s currently no treatment that can slow down progressive MS, but stem cell treatments for MS may become available in the future. There’s much progress to be made in this field.
Types of MS
There are two types of Multiple Sclerosis.
Most people (around 80%) are diagnosed with relapsing, remitting MS, in which symptoms reappear and disappear over a period of time, with repeated ‘attacks’ or ‘relapses’ where symptoms worsen. These relapses can last anywhere from days to months.
These typically worsen over some days, last for days to weeks to months, then slowly improve over a similar time period. Musician Ozzy Osbourne’s son Jack was diagnosed with relapsing, remitting MS in 2012. Actress Selma Blair was diagnosed in 2016.
In people with primary progressive MS, symptoms simply worsen over time with no periods of remission. Some 50% of people with relapsing, remitting MS will eventually develop secondary progressive MS, a sub-type of progressive MS differentiated only by how and when it develops.