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Guide to Multiple Sclerosis

Understanding Multiple Sclerosis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Learn about the signs and symptoms, causes, and treatment options for multiple sclerosis. Get informed and take control of your health.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the central nervous system. It is characterized by a variety of symptoms, including muscle weakness, fatigue, and problems with coordination and balance. MS can be a difficult condition to understand, but learning about it is the first step in taking control of your health.

Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of MS can vary greatly from person to person. Some common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Numbness or tingling in the limbs
  • Weakness in one or more limbs
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness
  • Electric shock sensations with certain neck movements (Lhermitte's sign)

Causes of Multiple Sclerosis

The exact cause of MS is not known. However, it is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the central nervous system. Risk factors for MS include:

  • Family history of MS
  • Age (most commonly diagnosed between 20 and 40 years old)
  • Gender (more common in women)
  • Geographic location (more common in latitudes further from the equator)
  • Exposure to certain viruses (such as Epstein-Barr virus)

Treatment options

There is currently no cure for MS, but there are several treatment options available to help manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. These include:

  • Medications to reduce inflammation and slow the progression of the disease
  • Physical therapy to help improve mobility and muscle strength
  • Occupational therapy to help with daily living activities
  • Speech therapy to help with speech and communication difficulties
  • Assistive devices such as canes, walkers, and wheelchairs
  • Support groups to connect with others who understand what you're going through

Getting tested

If you suspect you may have MS, it's important to see a doctor for an evaluation. The diagnosis of MS is made based on a combination of the patient's symptoms, medical history, and results from tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a spinal tap (lumbar puncture). Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve your quality of life. Our neuropsychologists at STLCCH can perform the cognitive testing necessary to inform treatments, interventions, and accommodations that people living with MS can use to remain independent, healthy, and productive.

Multiple Sclerosis FAQs

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. The immune system mistakenly attacks the protective covering of nerve fibers, called myelin, causing damage that can lead to a wide range of symptoms.

What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary greatly from person to person and can include fatigue, numbness or tingling in the limbs, weakness, difficulty walking or balance, muscle spasms, vision problems, and problems with coordination and fine motor skills.

What causes multiple sclerosis?

The exact cause of multiple sclerosis is not known. It is thought to be an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy cells. Some research suggests that certain genetic factors may make a person more susceptible to developing MS, while other possible causes include viral infections, environmental factors, and a combination of these factors.

How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?

MS can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions. To diagnose MS, a doctor will typically perform a thorough physical examination, take a detailed medical history, and order various tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, evoked potential tests, and spinal fluid analysis.

Can multiple sclerosis be cured?

Currently, there is no cure for multiple sclerosis. However, there are a variety of treatments available that can help manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. These include disease-modifying drugs that can slow the immune system's attack on the myelin, as well as medications to help manage symptoms such as spasticity, fatigue, and depression.

What are the potential complications of multiple sclerosis?

Complications of multiple sclerosis can include progressive disability, depression, and increased risk of infections. People with MS also have a higher risk of developing other health problems such as osteoporosis, heart disease and bladder infections.

How can I manage multiple sclerosis?

Managing multiple sclerosis often involves a team approach, which may include a neurologist, rehabilitation specialists, and other healthcare professionals. Many people with MS find that physical therapy, occupational therapy, and/or speech therapy can help them maintain their mobility and independence. Additionally, managing stress, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise can help improve overall well-being and reduce symptoms.

How can I find support if I have multiple sclerosis?

Living with multiple sclerosis can be challenging, and it is important to have a strong support system in place. Support groups are a great way to connect with others who are also living with MS and can provide a sense of community and understanding. Additionally, many organizations such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America offer a wide range of resources and support services for people with MS and their loved ones.

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The St. Louis Center for Cognitive Health is here to help those who may be struggling with neurobehavioral disorders or cognitive dysfunction.

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With a focus on accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, we are here to support you on your journey towards better health and wellness.