What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). In the disease, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibres and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause the nerves themselves to deteriorate or become permanently damaged.
Risk Factors and Signs of Multiple Sclerosis
Here are a few factors that may increase your risk of developing the disease:
• Age – This disease can occur at any age, but most commonly affects people between the ages of 15 and 60.
• Sex – Women are about twice as likely as men to develop Multiple Sclerosis.
• Family history – If one of your parents or siblings has had Multiple Sclerosis, you are at higher risk of developing the disease.
• Certain autoimmune diseases – You have a slightly higher risk of developing this disease if you have thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease.
• Smoking – Smokers who experience an initial event of symptoms that may signal Multiple Sclerosis are more likely than non-smokers to develop a second event that confirms relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
The common symptoms of this disease include:
- Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs that typically occurs on one side of your body at a time, or the legs and trunk
- Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at a time, often with pain during eye movement
- Prolonged double vision
- Tingling or pain in parts of your body
- Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady walk
- Slurred speech
- Problems with bowel and bladder function
Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis
Most importantly a complete neurological exam and medical history are needed to diagnose the disease. There are no specific tests for Multiple Sclerosis. Instead, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis often relies on ruling out other conditions that might produce similar signs and symptoms
Testing may include the following:
- Blood tests, to help rule out other diseases with symptoms similar to Multiple Sclerosis.
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap), in which a small sample of fluid is removed from your spinal canal for laboratory analysis.
- MRI, which can reveal areas of Multiple Sclerosis (lesions) on your brain and spinal cord.
In conclusion as a result in most people with relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis, the diagnosis is fairly straightforward and based on a pattern of symptoms consistent with the disease and confirmed by brain imaging scans, such as MRI. Examining the disease can be more difficult in persons with unusual symptoms or progressive disease. Likewise in these cases, further testing with spinal fluid analysis, evoked potentials and additional imaging may be needed.
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