The central nervous system controls most functions of the body and mind, making it a vital part of the human body. It can be affected by many diseases, including multiple sclerosis, a chronic, unpredictable disease caused by inflammation. March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, a month for raising awareness of a disease that affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.
More than 400,000 Americans live with the condition, but the incidence of multiple sclerosis in the United States could be higher, because many symptoms are unseen or unknown. It’s also difficult to diagnose, because there is no single test for multiple sclerosis.
The CNS is made up of optic nerves, the brain and spinal cord. Inflammation of this system is thought to destroy myelin, the fatty substance that insulates nerve fibers, and the nerve fibers themselves. This interrupts nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord, producing a wide variety of symptoms.
Symptoms of MS are unpredictable, and they are based on nerve damage and which nerves are affected. Some symptoms might eventually disappear completely, but others might continue and worsen. The most common symptoms include numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, typically occurring on one side of the body at a time; tingling or pain in parts of the body; fatigue; visual disturbances; or impaired mobility. Other symptoms might include slurred speech, tremors, or loss balance or memory.
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You cab develop MS at any age, although women are two to three times more likely to show symptoms of the disease. MS most commonly affects those between ages 20 and 50. The disease is most common in caucasians and is far more common in areas with temperate climates, including the northern United States.
Anyone with a family history of MS is at higher risk of developing the disease, as are those who have had certain infections in the past, including Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes mononucleosis. Smokers also are at greater risk of developing the disease, as are those who experience a deficiency in Vitamin D.
To diagnose MS, a neurological exam is often conducted, and a medical history review. More than 90 percent of those with MS have scar tissue that will show up on an MRI scan. Lab tests can help rule out other autoimmune conditions or infections.
Multiple sclerosis has no known cure, but there are many treatment options. These options vary, based on categories of the disease. Some strategies can help slow the progression of the disease, treat relapses, manage symptoms and improve function. Medication, physical therapy and massage therapy are all options. Multiple sclerosis patients should speak with their physicians to decide which treatment options might be right for them.
Dr. Landi Cranstoun is with KentuckyOne Urgent Care.