Multiple Sclerosis

What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms usually increase in severity over time, often starting with numbness in the arms or legs which leads to gradually decreasing mobility. In severe cases MS may result in paralysis and even loss of vision.

Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. Symptoms may be mild or severe, may come and go, and vary greatly from person to person.

What are the Symptoms of MS?

The primary symptoms of MS are usually one or more of the following:

  • Numbness or the sensation of “pins and needles” in arms and legs.
  • Increased difficulty in walking.
  • Blurred or double vision.
  • Pain and loss of vision.

Less common symptoms may include:

  • Tremors
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden paralysis

It is important to remember that many of the primary symptoms of MS can be effectively managed and secondary complications avoided, through regular care by a neurologist and related healthcare professionals.

What causes MS?

The exact causes of MS are not yet known, but years of research have resulted in several theories. Unfortunately, we still have more questions than answers.

Is it the environment? Research indicates that environmental factors could play a role. However, no one knows what in the environment could be contributing to the disease.

Is it virus? Researchers are studying the possibly of a virus being the triggering factor in MS. Although numerous common viruses are being investigated as possible causes, no single virus has been identified to date.

Is it inherited? While MS is not directly inherited, having a close relative with the disease, has been shown to increase an individual’s risk.

Is it an immune cell problem? It is generally accepted that MS is the result of an abnormal immune response that affects the central nervous system. The exact target of this attack, however, is still unknown.

Is traumatic injury involved? There is very little evidence to support the fact that injuries may cause MS flare ups.

Is it a combination of factors? Although any of the above factors may turn out to be the key, most researchers believe that MS results from a combination of things.

Getting a Definitive Diagnosis

Because there is no single laboratory test or physical finding which can clearly determine the presence of MS, and because the symptoms of MS may also be caused by many other ailments, getting a clear diagnosis of MS takes time and patience.

The first step to any diagnosis is a thorough examination by an experienced physician, covering mental, emotional, and language functions, vision, balance, and coordination. Also taken into consideration are family history, birthplace, and at what age symptoms first appeared. This is usually followed by an MRI. Even then, a definite diagnosis of MS may require repeated testing over a period of time.

Prognosis and Treatment Options

Although symptoms may range from mild problems with coordination to blindness and the inability to walk, write or speak, most people with MS can lead a fairly normal life with a normal life expectancy. Treatment options include steroids to fight inflammation and reduce the severity and length of attacks and physical therapy to help patients keep active. The goal is to speed recovery from attacks, lessen the number of relapses, and to keep the disease from getting worse. Recently the FDA has approved several new drugs to help achieve these goals.

Where can you get the care you need?

Home Health Aide Services: These services can provide help with those daily chores that can be overwhelming when you have MS. Home Health Aides are available seven days a week to help with shopping, local errands, cooking, cleaning and companionship.

Adult Day Health Care: Adult Day Health Care centers can provide daily help as MS progresses. Experienced professionals are equipped to take care of daily rehabilitative needs including physical, occupational and speech therapy. Most programs accept Medicaid and offer door-to-door wheelchair accessible transportation. They also feature activities tailored to individual interests and physical capabilities as well as nutritious hot meal.

Long Term Home Health Care: For people with advanced MS who find it difficult to leave their homes, these program offer a complete team of health care professionals that come directly into the home to provide rehabilitative and supportive health care services according to a treatment plan prescribed by a managing physician.

In-Residence Facilities: For the most advanced MS patient, skilled nursing facilities offer 24-hour nursing supervision, rehabilitation or help with daily living activities.

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