It affects almost half a million Americans and over 2 million people across the globe but there is still no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS). This nerve disease is debilitating and can cause serious complications. The signs of multiple sclerosis are not limited to one area of the body.
With nerves running throughout the body, multiple sclerosis can affect function of the brain, eyes, limbs, bowel and bladder or any other organ or system in the body. Therefore multiple sclerosis signs may vary not only at different stages of the disease but also among individuals.
What happens in multiple sclerosis?
Every nerve in the body has an insulating layer in a similar way to the insulation around an electrical cable. This insulating layer is known as the myelin sheath. It not only protects the nerve but also helps the nerve transmit signals which are electrical impulses. These signals sends information to and from the brain.
In multiple sclerosis, this insulating myelin sheath is damaged and eventually destroyed. This loss of myelin is known as a demyelinating disease. In severe and long term multiple sclerosis (MS), the nerve may also be damaged. Without an intact myelin sheath, the nerve impulses cannot be properly transmitted through the nerve.
Since nerves carry signals for a host of different functions, there may be various disruptions throughout the body. It may affect sensory functions leading to symptoms like tingling or double vision. When motor (muscle) nerves are affected, there may be problems with movement resulting in symptoms like weak legs, slurred speech and tremors.
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a gradually progressive demyelinating disease. This means that it develops and progresses slowly but usually worsens over time. There may be periods of remission where new symptoms clear up in part or fully. However, these periods of remission do not mean that the disease has resolve. Therefore multiple sclerosis is also known as a relapsing-remitting disease.
The exact cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) is still unknown but the damage to the myelin sheath and nerve cells is caused by the immune system. Some disturbance the activity of the immune system causes it to attack the myelin sheat thereby damaging and destroying it. This malfunction of the immune system (autoimmune disease) may be due to genetic or environmental factors and could be triggered (but not caused) by viral infections.
How To Spot Multiple Sclerosis
A host of other neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and a stroke, may cause similar signs and symptoms. There are no specific tests for multiple sclerosis. Therefore a diagnosis depends on the signs and symptom as well as ruling out other causes that causes similar symptoms. The presentation of multiple sclerosis can vary depending on which nerves are most affected and the part of the body that is supplied by these nerves.
One of the earliest symptoms is abnormal sensations known as paresthesias. Most people with multiple sclerosis experience unusual tingling in the affected area. This is usually in the limbs and one side of the body is affected a a time in most instances. The torso may also be affected on one side along with the limbs.
Pain is another symptom that can occur in multiple sclerosis (MS). However, it does not affect all MS patients. Only about one-third to half of MS patients will experience pain at some point in their illness. The pain may accompany the tingling as well as other symptoms like weakness or can occur on its own. Sometime the pain may only occur with movement of the affected part of the body.
Certain nerves control specific muscles or muscle groups in the body. If a motor nerve (nerve that controls a muscles) is affected then activity of the target muscle(s) is also affected. This may be seen as weakness of a certain part of the body where the muscles do not contract with the same force. The weakness is often more obvious in the limbs but can also involve other muscles, such as the face muscles or muscles of speech (slurring).
Apart from muscle weakness, multiple sclerosis may also cause muscle spasm, twitches and tremors. Spasm is a forceful contraction of a muscle which results in stiffness. This may affect any part of the body but mostly affects the muscles needed to stand upright.
Twitching is repetive contractions of a part of a muscle and in multiple sclerosis this is more likely to occur in the facial muscles. Tremors are where a muscle or groups of muscles of a part of the body contract and relax thereby causing rhythmic movements, usually in a limb.
Some of the common symptoms of multiple sclerosis are various eye problems. This varies from double vision, virual disturbances like flashes of light or loss of vision (partial or complete). There may also be eye pain, especially when moving the eyeball, and involuntary eye movements (nystagmus). The eyes and sense of vision is affected in a variety of different ways beyond the symptoms mentioned.
Read more on double vision.
Multiple sclerosis can affect mental health in a host of different ways. This can range from poor concentration and memory to problems with speech, problem solving, reasoning and visual perception. Depression, bipolar disorder or even dementia may arise in multiple sclerosis patients but this does not occur in every case and some may only be late occurrences.
Heat Intolerance and Aggravation
A characteristic and unusual symptom of multiple sclerosis is heat intolerance and an aggravation of certain symptoms with increased body temperature and environmental heat, including hot showers. For example, heat may cause blurring of vision mainly in an eye previously affected with optic neuritis. Muscle weakness and non-specific symptoms like fatigue may also worsen with heat.
There are a host of other signs and symptoms that may occur with multiple sclerosis. Some may be non-specific like dizziness, fatigue and insomnia. At other times the symptoms may be isolated to a specific organ or symptoms, like impaired bowel and bladder function. This may lead to frequent urination and urinary incontinence to constipation. Sexual dysfunction may also arise.