If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), you probably have a lot of questions. Many people misunderstand their diagnosis or don’t know what to do expect in the years to come and from treatment. In this article, we’ll go over the basics of this diagnosis:
- What is MS?
- Cause of MS
- Types of MS
What Is MS?
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. Damage to the nerves in those areas disrupts the body’s communication with the central nervous system, which can cause a host of problems. Symptoms such as pain, vision loss, fatigue and even impaired movement are all common in people with MS.
It’s important to know the disease doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Some people may go their entire lives with an MS diagnosis and never notice any discomfort or problems. Other people may lose the ability to control basic motor functions or suffer total blindness. It depends on the severity of the case and where the nerve damage is mainly focused.
Cause of MS
There is no clear cause of MS, but doctors do have some ideas about what could be contributing factors.
- Immune system. Some doctors believe MS is a type of auto-immune disease, in which the body begins attacking itself in response to some sort of stimuli. This abnormal response can cause inflammation in the central nervous system that damages nerves and causes MS symptoms.
- Environment. There are several ongoing studies looking at the epidemiology of MS — in whom and where the disease is most prevalent. Scientists have found areas far from the equator seem to be more at risk than others. They also found people who are overweight, smoke cigarettes or have low vitamin D levels are more susceptible to developing MS.
- Infections. There is some evidence that suggests MS could be a byproduct of certain infections such as Epstein-Barr virus, the measles or herpesvirus-6. These are all conditions that cause some type of abnormal inflammation which may put stress on the nervous system.
- Genetics. Although MS is not a genetically inherited disease, some studies suggest people can inherit the genetic risk factor. For example, the example that twins will both develop MS is much higher than just one person against the entire population. This means if you have an immediate relative with MS, your chances of developing the disease may be higher also.
Types of MS
Many people wonder about spinal MS vs brain MS, but it’s important to remember that the disease can affect each or both. The official types of MS aren’t classified by the affected area but by the progression of symptoms.
The first type of MS is called a Clinically Isolated Episode (CIE). This means you’ve had some symptoms of MS and evidence of inflammation, but it’s your first experience with these feelings. Usually doctors will do an MRI to check for lesions in your central nervous system. If lesions are present, you’re likely to experience a second episode.
The next type is Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS) and it’s the most common. In this type of MS, symptoms will come in episodes over time instead of presenting as a chronic problem. People with this type of MS may experience worsening symptoms over time, but that is not always the case.
If your RRMS continually worsens, your disease may be reclassified as Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS). This type of MS follows a similar symptom and episode pattern as RRMS, but the patient becomes continually worse as time goes on. This type of MS is often what leads people to disability as their pain and other symptoms worsen.
The final type is Primary Progressive MS (PPMS), which means symptoms continually worsen without relapses or remittances. This is the more chronic version of MS which takes the largest toll on a person’s life. It’s also relatively rare. Only about 15% of people with MS have PPMS.
Multiple sclerosis is a serious neurodegenerative disease that can greatly impact your life. But when you catch symptoms early and get a positive diagnosis, there are medications and treatments that can help you manage your pain and limit MS episodes. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have MS.