What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, at times disabling disease of the
central nervous system - the brain and spinal cord. The disease attacks the
protective myelin covering of the central nervous system, causing inflammation
and often destroying the myelin in patches. The severity of MS, progression and
specific symptoms cannot be predicted at the time of diagnosis. While MS can
cause disabilities, it is important to remember for most people it will be many
years before they may require even a cane on a regular basis.
What causes MS?
It is not know
as yet what causes MS. Most researchers believe that MS is an autoimmune
disease. For reasons that are still unclear, the body's immune system
malfunctions and starts attacking the myelin which protects the central nervous
system. There is some evidence that MS may be triggered by a common virus, and
that certain people are more susceptible to developing MS because of genetic
factors. There is no evidence, however, that MS is a directly inherited disease.
A number of genes are probably involved in whatever makes some people more
susceptible to MS.
Multiple sclerosis most often strikes young adults - women and men between the
ages of 20 to 40 who are in their career and family building years. The average
age of diagnosis is 30, but cases of MS have been diagnosed in childhood, and
people in their fifties have been diagnosed as well. Women develop MS almost
twice as often as men.
What Are Some Common Symptoms
The following symptoms are the
most common experienced by most people. Because not everyone is alike, not
everyone will experience all symptoms:
Disturbances - may include vision blurring, double vision,
involuntary rapid eye movement and very rarely, loss of sight.
Fatigue - a debilitating kind of fatigue that comes on
suddenly. This is the most common symptom of MS.
Coordination Problems - may include loss of balance,
tremor, unstable walking, dizziness, clumsiness and lack of
of Muscles (spasticity) - sometimes the muscles can go
into very painful muscle spasms.
- the muscles in the legs can become very weak making it
difficult to walk.
Sensation - This may include tingling, numbness
(paraethesia) or a burning feeling in one particular area of
the body. Facial pain may occur because of trigeminal
neuralgia (also known as tic douloureux), which involves a
malfunction of one of the major facial nerves.
Sensitivity To Heat - Many people with MS find they become
sensitive to heat and their symptoms worsen while in a hot
- Speech and
Swallowing Problems - These may include slowing of speech,
slurring of words, changes in rhythm of speech and difficulty
in swallowing (dysphagia).
and Bowel Problems - Bladder problems may include the need
to urinate frequently or urgently, incomplete emptying of the
bladder or emptying at inappropriate times. Bowel problems may
include constipation and, infrequently, loss of bowel control.
and Intimacy - These can include from time to time
impotence, diminished arousal and loss of sensation.
- Short Term
Memory and Cognitive Problems - These may include problems
with short-term memory, concentration, judgment or reasoning
is a disease that has to be lived with on a daily basis and for
the rest of one's life. If you have little or no physical
disability, your lifestyle and that of your family may not change
at all. Nevertheless, the knowledge of the disease and its
potential implications can weigh very heavily on the individual
with the disease and the surrounding family. It all really depends
upon the symptoms experienced and how one feels.
Symptoms can be
continually present or pronounced at different times. The severity
of the symptoms often dictate to what extent MS will affect one's
Many people with MS say they have to plan
ahead more than they were used to doing in the past and that they
have to change some of their activities and schedules. If fatigue
is a problem, for example, several short rest periods each day may
allow you to continue your usual routine, but at a slightly slower
Tips For Caregivers
- Choose to take charge of your life, and
don't let your loved one's illness or disability always take
- Remember to be good to yourself. Love,
honor and value yourself. You're doing a very hard job and you
deserve some quality time, just for you.
- Watch out for signs of depression, and
don't delay in getting professional help when you need it.
- When people offer to help, accept the
offer and suggest specific things that they can do.
- Educate yourself about your loved one's
condition. Knowledge is power.
- There's a difference between caring and
doing. Be open to technologies and ideas that promote your loved
- Trust your instincts. Most of the time
they'll lead you in the right direction.
- Grieve for your losses, and then allow
yourself to dream new dreams.
- Stand up for your rights as a caregiver
and a citizen.
- Seek support from other caregivers.
There is great strength in knowing you are not alone.