Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system, which is the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. This can lead to a wide range of symptoms throughout the body. It is not possible to predict how multiple sclerosis (MS) will progress in any individual. Some people have mild symptoms, such as blurred vision and numbness and tingling in the limbs. In severe cases, a person may experience paralysis, vision loss, and mobility problems. In the case of MS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers, causing inflammation.
Myelin allows the nerves to conduct electrical signals quickly and efficiently. Multiple sclerosis means “scar tissue in multiple areas.” When the myelin sheath disappears or sustains damage in multiple areas, it leaves a scar, or sclerosis.
The most common symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis are:
Muscle weakness: People may develop weak muscles due to lack of use or stimulation due to nerve damage.
Numbness and tingling: A pins and needles-type sensation is one of the earliest symptoms of MS and can affect the face, body, or arms and legs.
Lhermitte’s sign: A person may experience a sensation like an electric shock when they move their neck, known as Lhermitte’s sign.
Bladder problems: A person may have difficulty emptying their bladder or need to urinate frequently or suddenly, known as urge incontinence. Loss of bladder control is an early sign of MS.
Bowel problems: Constipation can cause fecal impaction, which can lead to bowel incontinence.
Fatigue: This can undermine a person’s ability to function at work or at home, and is one of the most common symptoms of MS.
Dizziness and vertigo: These are common problems, along with balance and coordination issues.
Sexual dysfunction: Both males and females may lose interest in sex.
Spasticity and muscle spasms: This is an early sign of MS. Damaged nerve fibers in the spinal cord and brain can cause painful muscle spasms, including in the legs.
Tremor: Some people with MS may experience involuntary quivering movements.
Vision problems: Some people may experience double or blurred vision or a partial or total loss of vision. This usually affects one eye at a time. Inflammation of the optic nerve can result in pain when the eye moves. Vision problems are an early sign of MS.
Gait and mobility changes: MS can change the way people walk due to muscle weakness and problems with balance, dizziness, and fatigue.
Emotional changes and depression: Demyelination and nerve fiber damage in the brain can trigger emotional changes.
Learning and memory problems: These can make it difficult to concentrate, plan, learn, prioritize, and multitask.
MS is a potentially severe health condition that affects the nervous system. Progression of MS is different for each person, so it is hard to predict what will happen, but most people will not experience severe disability.
In recent years, scientists have made rapid progress in developing drugs and treatments for MS. Newer drugs are safer and more effective, and they offer significant hope for slowing disease progression.
As researchers learn more about genetic features and changes that occur with MS, there is also hope that they will be able to predict more easily which kind of MS a person will have and establish the most effective treatment from the earliest stage.