Multiple sclerosis is a long-lasting nervous system disease which affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. It is also the most widespread disabling neurological condition of young adults worldwide, with an estimated one million cases in the United States and 2.5 million globally. MS is an unpredictable disease with no known cause, so the rate of progression and even the symptoms aren’t fully understood. Fortunately, many people living with MS live a normal lifespan and don’t develop severe disabilities.
Multiple Sclerosis damages the myelin sheath, a fatty layer which surrounds and protects nerve cells. Because of this, signals between the brain and body are often slowed or blocked, leading to the development of symptoms which include:
such as loss of vision, pain, and double vision
Muscle weakness and fatigue
Trouble with coordination and balance
Numbness or tingling
Thinking and memory problems
Most people with MS have a relapsing-remitting disease course. There are periods of new symptoms (relapses) which develop over days or weeks and usually improve. Following the relapse is remission which can last for months or years. About 60 percent of people with this disease course eventually develop a steady progression of symptoms, often without the remission period. This is known as secondary-progressive MS. Symptoms at this stage often include problems with mobility and gait.
While there is no definitive test for MS, doctors use a combination of medical history, physical and neurological exams, and imaging like an MRI. Treatment strategies are constantly improving, but a combination of drug / occupational / physical therapies make the symptoms manageable and can slow its progression; there is still no cure for MS.
If you believe that you or a loved one is developing symptoms consistent with MS, consult your primary care doctor. Scientists continue to develop new pharmaceuticals and treatments, and because of this, clinical trials are frequently offered. Your doctor or hospital system can advise you on their availability and recommend one that is a good fit for you.