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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the central nervous system. It is thought to be an autoimmune disorder, a condition in which the body mistakenly attacks itself. It’s an unpredictable condition that can be relatively benign to disabling. Some people with MS may be mildly affected, while others may lose their ability to see clearly, write, speak, or walk when communication between the brain and other parts of the body becomes disrupted.
Myelin is the fatty tissue that surrounds and protects nerve fibers. In MS, the myelin is destroyed in multiple areas. This loss of myelin forms scar tissue called sclerosis. These areas are also called plaques or lesions. When damaged in this way, the nerves are unable to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain.
There are many possible causes of MS, including:
The symptoms of MS are often unpredictable. They may be mild or severe, of long duration or short. They may appear in various combinations, depending on the area of the nervous system affected. The following are the most common symptoms of MS. However, each person may have different symptoms.
About half of all people with MS have thinking problems related to the disease. The effects of these problems may be mild. Your doctor may only find them after much testing. The problems may be with:
Symptoms of MS are grouped as primary, secondary, or tertiary as described below:
Primary symptoms. These symptoms are a direct result of the destruction of myelin may result in the following:
Secondary symptoms. These are complications that may arise as a result of the primary symptoms, for example:
Tertiary symptoms. These are the social, vocational, and psychological complications:
The symptoms of MS may resemble other health conditions or problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
No specific test is available to diagnose multiple sclerosis. But a doctor can make a diagnosis by following a careful process to rule out other causes and diseases. Two things must be true to make a diagnosis of MS:
Generally a single attack along with certain patterns of changes in brain tissue seen on an MRI scan of the brain can mean that you have MS.
Evaluation for MS involves a complete health history and neurological exam. This includes:
The following may be used when evaluating a person for multiple sclerosis:
Evaluation and diagnosis of MS requires a variety of tools to rule out other possible disorders and a series of lab tests that, if positive, confirms the diagnosis.
Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:
Treatments for the conditions seen with MS may include:
There is no cure yet for MS. But you can take steps to change the course of the disease, treat flare-ups, manage symptoms, and improve function and mobility.
Rehabilitation varies depending on your symptoms and how severe they are. MS rehabilitation may help you to:
The complications of MS range from mild to severe. They can range from fatigue to the inability to walk. Other complications include loss of vision, balance, and bowel or bladder control. Depression can result from the difficulty of living with a chronic condition.
It's important to take your medicines as directed. You may get help by taking part in a clinical trial. Using equipment like canes or walkers can help you get around as walking become more difficult. Rehabilitation activities can also help you keep or get back functioning. Changing the way your home is set up can help you stay independent. Talk with your family and healthcare providers about what you need.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
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