|Written by Ken Teegardin|
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Chief Editor | Caregiver
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the central nervous system—the spinal cord, brain, and optic nerves. Symptoms range from the mild—numbness in the limbs—to severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. MS is unpredictable and affects everyone in different ways.
Whether you’re living in assisted living or living independently, you should know the basics about this debilitating disease.
Most Common Symptoms
Some of these MS symptoms are more common than others.
- Fatigue occurs in about 80% of people with MS. It tends to worsen as the day progresses.
- Numbness of the face, body and legs and arms is a common symptom. It’s usually the first symptom seen in MS diagnosis.
- Spasticity—the feeling of spasm-producing muscle tightness usually in the legs—is a common symptom.
- Muscles weakness, numbness of feet, and fatigue all contribute to a person’s walking difficulties.
- Bladder dysfunction—incontinence, frequency/urgency, frequency at night—occurs in over 80% of people with MS.
- Constipation and diarrhea are both common problems for people with MS.
- Vision problems thought to be optic neuritis or inflammation of the optic nerve sometimes occur in MS patients. Symptoms include double vision, eye pain and heavy blurring.
- Dizziness is a common symptom.
- Significant pain occurs in 55% of MS patients. Chronic pain occurs in 50%.
- Cognitive problems occur in 50% of MS patients. Some of these problems include problem-solving, focus, planning, organization, and the ability to learn and remember.
- Clinical depression is more common in people with MS than the rest of the population.
- Sexual dysfunction occurs because of damage to the central nervous system. Areas affected include arousal and orgasm.
Causes of Multiple Sclerosis
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The exact causes of MS are still unknown. However, scientists believe the causes may be a combination of factors.
- Immunologic- The body’s immune system attacks myelin, a fatty substance that protects nerve fibers in the central nervous system. Once damaged, the myelin forms scar tissue called sclerosis. This damage disrupts nerve impulses traveling from the brain and spinal cord.
- Environmental- Studies show that MS occurs more frequently in areas farther from the equator. This could be related to vitamin D. Those living closer to the equator experience more year-round sunlight, which results in more naturally produced levels of vitamin D. This vitamin D helps combat autoimmune diseases like MS.
- Infectious diseases are being researched as triggers for MS. These diseases include measles, canine distemper, human herpes virus-6, Epstein-Barr, and Chlamydia pneumonia.
- Genetics may be another factor, scientists believe. They think MS develops because a person is born with a genetic predisposition that starts an autoimmune response.
Unfortunately, there is no “smoking gun” that tells doctors a person has MS. They make their determination using a combination of tests and examinations. The most widely used tests are the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), spinal fluid analysis, and evoked potentials (EP).
An MRI can detect scars or lesions in different parts of the central nervous system.
A cerebrospinal fluid analysis detects levels of oligoclonal bands in the immune system’s proteins. The bands are found in the spinal fluid of 95% of people with MS. However, these bands are present in other diseases making this test not 100% accurate.
An evoked potential (EP) test records the nervous system’s response times over visual, auditory, and sensory pathways. Slow or interrupted times can indicate damage to the myelin, a possible cause of MS.
Though there is no cure for MS, those with the disease can manage the symptoms and live relatively productive lives.
These drugs can help reduce disease activity and progression for some people: Avonex, Betaseron, Copaxone, Extavia, Gilenva, Novantrone, Rebif, and Tysabri.
Rehabilitation is important at all stages of the disease. These programs include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and swallowing therapy, cognitive rehab, and vocational rehab.
Seniors living with MS will find many challenges. However, the disease can be managed with a variety of drug treatment and rehabilitation.
Updated: Apr 04, 2011