Learning about Multiple Sclerosis

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Canada has the world’s highest rate of this complex disease

Nearly 100,000 Canadians live with multiple sclerosis (MS), which is an unpredictable disease that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). People are often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40, but MS can develop at any age. It is diagnosed in women three times as often as it is in men.

MS is believed to be autoimmune in nature. This means that the body’s own immune system attacks healthy tissues and cells. In the case of MS, the immune system attacks myelin, the central nervous system’s protective covering. This causes inflammation and damage, which can interrupt or distort the transmission of nerve impulses (messages) and cause a range of symptoms.

The cause of MS is unknown. Researchers are exploring genetic, biological, environmental and lifestyle factors that may play a role. While MS is not yet curable, disease-modifying therapies and improved symptom management have enabled most people with this condition to have a normal or near-normal life span, and there is reason for optimism as research continues to unravel the secrets of MS.

Symptoms

Symptoms vary depending on which parts of the central nervous system are affected. Symptoms can also change within the same person over time. People living with MS may experience:

  • fatigue
  • balance problems or dizziness
  • poor coordination
  • muscle weakness
  • sensory impairment (numbness, tingling)
  • increased sensitivity to heat
  • vision problems
  • spasticity
  • tremors
  • speech or swallowing difficulties
  • pain
  • sexual dysfunction
  • bladder and bowel problems
  • cognitive impairment, such as memory problems

Many of these symptoms can be managed with interventions such as medication, rehabilitation therapies, mobility aids or lifestyle changes.

Types of MS

There are four types of multiple sclerosis:

  • Relapsing-remitting (RRMS): This type alternates between periods of recovery and relapse (attacks, flare-ups or exacerbations of symptoms). During relapses, existing symptoms can worsen and new symptoms may appear. About 85% of people who have MS are diagnosed with this type.
  • Secondary-progressive (SPMS): This diagnosis occurs when symptoms of relapsing-remitting MS worsen, and the recovery and relapse periods become less distinct. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, about half of people with relapsing-remitting MS experience a worsening of symptoms within 10 to 20 years of diagnosis.
  • Primary-progressive (PPMS): In this type of MS, symptoms become progressively worse from the beginning, with growing disability. There may be stable periods or temporary improvement, but no remission. About 10% of people with MS have this type.
  • Progressive-relapsing (PRMS): This is the rarest type, affecting about 5% of people with MS. The disease worsens steadily from the beginning, with or without periods of recovery.

Diagnosis

There isn’t a single test for MS. Physicians consider a patient’s medical history and perform a neurological exam and perhaps other tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to find evidence of disease activity and rule out other health conditions.

Bayshore is pleased to provide information that educates you as you strive to care for your loved ones. This blog post contains information about MS. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. For more information on multiple sclerosis, please consult your doctor.