Multiple Sclerosis

Overview

Multiple sclerosis or MS occurs in patients whose immune systems act in an abnormal manner. MS affects the central nervous system. The body's immune system, which normally targets and destroys foreign substances such as viruses and bacteria, attacks normal neural tissues in the brain and spinal cord.

Symptoms

Multiple sclerosis symptoms generally appear in people between the ages of 20 and 40. The onset of the condition may be dramatic, or so mild that a person doesn't even notice symptoms until far later in the course of the disease.

Common early symptoms may include fatigue, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, blurred vision or loss of balance. Some less common symptoms may include slurred speech, lack of coordination, sudden onset of paralysis or difficulty processing information.
As the disease progresses, symptoms may advance to include muscle spasms, heat sensitivity, vision problems, depression, difficulty speaking or swallowing, tremors, dizziness, impaired thinking or perception and difficulty walking (gait disorders).

Causes

Researchers do not fully understand what causes multiple sclerosis. Some studies suggest that the condition develops because of a person’s genetic predisposition to an environmental agent encountered early in life, before the age of 15.

A later-in-life encounter with this environmental agent, which may be a virus or other agent, may trigger the disease. It is likely that different agents may be associated with the disease in different people.

Risk Factors

There may be a slight genetic predisposition for multiple sclerosis. While there is a higher prevalence of individuals with condition in families than in the general population, it is not considered a directly-inherited disease.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis is obtained by examining a patient’s medical history and through a neurological exam of the functioning of the brain and spinal cord. Other diagnostic techniques used include magnetic resonance imagine (MRI), spinal taps or lumbar punctures, evoked potentials (electrical tests to help determine if MS has affected a person's nerve pathways) and laboratory analysis of blood samples.

Complications

Complications of MS may include pain, muscle spasticity, difficulty walking (gait disorders) or optic neuritis, which causes inflammation of the optic nerve resulting in temporary blurred or loss of vision, as well as bladder problems