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Catching Multiple Sclerosis Early

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the nervous system that affects the brain, optic nerves and spinal cord. Early signs of MS are varied and can be similar to other illnesses, however, those symptoms are important to know since early detection and treatment of MS can help delay the progression of MS.

Nearly one million adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with MS, and most are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. In MS, the immune system becomes misdirected and attacks the fatty tissue around nerve cells in the central nervous system. Scar tissue form, making it difficult for the nerve cells to communicate between the brain and the rest of the body.

Why the immune system attacks the nerve cells is unknown. Some evidence connects exposure to the Epstein Barr virus with an increased risk of MS, but some experts dispute this. Being of northern European descent puts Americans at higher risk, and women are more likely to develop MS than men. While the disease is chronic, it is usually mild in most case at the beginning. However, some people may become unable to walk, have normal sensation and balance and it may affect memory as the disease progresses. Treatment with MS medications has repeatedly shown to stop this progression.

Early Signs of MS

Symptoms of MS can come and go, so particularly in the early stages, it’s easy to dismiss these signs or attribute them to other causes. MS symptoms usually begin and get worse over a 24- to 48-hour period.

They include:

  • Blurred vision

  • Double vision

    male patient speaking to doctor while sitting on examination table
  • Fatigue

  • Muscle weakness

  • Difficulty with coordination and balance

  • Numbness, prickling or tingling

  • Thinking and memory problems

  • Pain

  • Depression

  • Slurred speech

  • Dizziness

  • Problems with sexual, bowel and bladder function

  • Tremors

  • Paralysis

  • Partial or complete loss of vision in one eye (especially with pain)

If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor. Even if it’s not MS, it is important to find out the underlying causes of your symptoms.

How Is MS Diagnosed and Treated?

MS is best detected by a neurological examination and painless imaging studies of the brain and spinal cord using magnetic resonance testing (MRI). An ophthalmologist also can use a test called an optical coherence tomography (OCT) to determine if the optic nerve has been affected by MS. In some cases, a lumbar puncture is needed to make the diagnosis of MS.

Based on your symptoms, history, neurological exam and findings on the MRI, your doctor may make the diagnosis of MS. Although there is not currently a cure for MS, more than 25 different medications — ranging from injections to pills to intravenous infusions — are available to treat MS. Physical, occupational and speech therapy can help manage the disease symptoms. Even if you are newly diagnosed or have few symptoms, therapy along with nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes can help you maintain your health.

The most important goal in MS treatment is to stop the disease from attacking your brain and spinal cord as these structures control everything in your body. By preventing new lesions from forming, we delay and potentially prevent future disability and people with MS can live normal lives.


Choose Comprehensive Multiple Sclerosis Care

The Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center (MSCCC) works to improve the quality of life for persons with multiple sclerosis (MS). The Center assists individuals manage the effects of the disease through comprehensive treatment and education.

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