Multiple Sclerosis, commonly known as MS, is the most common neurological conditions amongst adults aged between 20 and 40 in the UK. It affects around 85,000 people each year. Multiple Sclerosis occurs when myelin, a substance that facilitates the delivery of nerve signals around the body, becomes damaged. MS is a chronic condition, but it does not usually lead to premature death. There are four main types of MS; these include:
- Benign MS: this is the mildest form of MS
- Relapses remitting MS: this is the most common form of MS
- Secondary progressive MS
- Primary progressive MS: this is the most severe form of MS
What causes MS?
The exact cause of MS remains unknown; however experts have concluded that MS is an autoimmune condition, meaning the body’s immune system attacks the myelin because it believes it to be a foreign body. Possible factors that may contribute to this condition include:
- Genetics: there is a slightly higher risk of developing MS if you have a relative with the condition; however, MS cannot be defined as a genetic condition because it is not caused by one particular gene.
- Environmental factors: people that live in cooler climates have a slightly higher risk of developing MS; it is not known why this happens.
What are the symptoms of MS?
There are many different symptoms that may be associated with MS; most patients only present with a few of the symptoms and it is very rare that patients will suffer with all of the symptoms listed below:
- Extreme tiredness
- Problems with vision (initially this usually affects one eye but over time it may spread to both eyes): possible problems include blurred vision, pain in the eyes, colour blindness and problems focusing on objects or images.
- Pain: there are two major types of pain, including neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain; neuropathic pain is associated with damage to the fibres in the central nervous system; this may cause stabbing, acute pains and a sensation of burning. Musculoskeletal pain occurs as a result of pressure on the joints and muscles.
- Muscle spasms
- Problems with movement
- Problems with communication and memory loss
- Mental health problems including depression
- Bowel problems
Treatment for MS
Currently, there is no cure for MS but there are treatments available that can help to ease symptoms and slow down the progression of the condition. Patients with benign MS who only suffer from very mild symptoms may not require any treatment. Each patient that is diagnosed with MS will undergo a series of assessments to determine the nature and severity of their condition; they will then be allocated to members of a specialist healthcare team, based on their individual needs.
Treatment is mainly focused on easing symptoms and slowing down the progression of the condition; treatment is also used to help people that have relapses. Treatment mainly involves a combination of medications, which will be used to treat the individual symptoms and help to delay the progression of the condition. Relapses will usually be treated with steroids. In many cases, patients are also advised to have therapies such as physiotherapy and speech therapy to improve their movement and communication. Some patients also choose to have complementary therapies such as acupuncture and massage.