Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a condition in which the myelin sheath that surrounds nerve cells is destroyed causing nerve signals to slow down or stop. MS is an autoimmune disease. This means that cells from the body’s immune system attack the myelin sheath causing inflammation which heals with scarring and damages nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
It is not known what causes cells from the immune system to attack those from the nervous system but it is suspected that either a virus or genes or environmental factors trigger the process.
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary depending on the nerves which are damaged. Muscle symptoms include numbness, weakness of the arms or legs, imbalance, muscle spasms, tingling sensations, tremors or uncontrollable shaking and problems walking.
Eye symptoms, which develop when the optic nerve is affected, include blurred vision, diplopia or double vision, uncontrollable rapid eye movements and blindness which usually affects one eye at a time.
Brain symptoms of MS include decreased attention span, poor judgment, difficulty reasoning and memory loss. These may be associated with dizziness, depression and hearing loss.
Bowel and bladder symptoms of multiple sclerosis include constipation and stool leakage, strong urges to urinate, frequent urination and urine leakage.
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis and treatment is aimed at slowing the disease process, controlling the symptoms and improving the patient’s quality of life.
Disease modifying drugs which are taken to alter the course of the disease and reduce the number and severity of relapses include Aubagio, Avonex, Copaxone, Extavia, Gilenya, Rebif and Tysabri. These medications also slow the progression of the disease and reduce the accumulation of new lesions.
The interferon beta 1b (Betaseron) is another disease modifying drug which reduces the number of flares and helps keep a patient active for much longer. Side effects of these disease modifying drugs include flu-like symptoms, fatigue, fever and chills.
Corticosteroids like prednisone are also prescribed to decrease the severity of the attacks. Medications are also taken to specifically manage symptoms like muscle spasms, urinary problems, fatigue and mood problems.
Physical therapy and speech therapy are prescribed for patients with movement and speech problems. Other supportive measures include following a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet and adequate rest
A diet low in saturated fats and supplemented with omega 3 and 6 fatty acids was initially found to be beneficial for MS but these findings were not replicated by later studies. To date no diets have been medically proven to help patients with multiple sclerosis but research is still ongoing. However, it does not hurt to lower the intake of saturated fats since this will also help prevent heart disease and other conditions.
Without treatment the outcome of MS varies from person to person though it is generally characterized by periods of relapse in which the symptoms increase and last for days, weeks or months. These periods are followed by those of remission with little or no symptoms. With time there is greater loss of function with each attack and less improvement in the remission periods.
The latest research on multiple sclerosis reveals that the disease modifying medication Tecfidera is a great treatment option for patients without highly active disease who have had two clinically significant relapses in the previous two years. Side effects of this tablet which is taken twice a day include low levels of immune cells, flushing, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Support groups for persons with multiple sclerosis in Tennessee include the National Multiple Sclerosis Society whose website is http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Chapters/TNS . Their address is 214 Overlook Circle Ste. 153 Brentwood, TN 37027. They can also be reached by phone at 1 800 344 4867 or via email at TNS@NMSS.ORG and faxed at 615 269 9470.