MS — in the health care world these simple letters stand for multiple sclerosis, a disease that’s anything but simple.
MS is an unpredictable nervous system disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. Scientists don’t know the exact causes of MS, but it causes the body’s immune cells to attack and damage the myelin sheath, the coating that surrounds and protects our nerve cells. When MS damages the myelin sheath, the signals the nerves carry between your brain and body slow or stop.
The damage can result in a number of symptoms. The symptoms can differ in each individual, so diagnosis can be difficult. There is no single test to identify MS. To make a diagnosis, a doctor will use a medical history, physical exam, neurological exam, MRI, blood tests (to rule out any other issues), spinal tap and evoked potentials, which checks the electrical responses in the brain
Symptoms can include:
The disease symptoms can be mild, but some people lose the ability to write, speak or walk.
You can develop MS at any age, but diagnosis commonly happens between the ages of 20 and 40. MS is more commonly seen in women than men.
MS is considered the most widespread disabling neurological condition of young adults around the world. Estimates put the number of Americans diagnosed with MS at 400,000. That’s more people than live in Minneapolis. Worldwide, the estimate is 2.5 million. Researchers have found the risk of MS is higher in colder climates and areas where people are exposed to less sun.
There is no cure for MS, but medicines may slow it down and help control symptoms. An early diagnosis typically improves management of the disease. The right treatment can reduce symptoms and prevent them from becoming disabling. Treatment may include:
Physical and occupational therapy can also help.
If you have concerns about the symptoms we’ve shared here, check with your health care professional. Since MS is unpredictable, you may want to consider getting a second opinion so you know all your options.