Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disorder of the central nervous system. MS can cause numbness, weakness, a loss of muscle control and vision, speech problems and more, all of which can have a profound impact on a patient’s comfort and quality of life.
In patients with MS, the immune system destroys myelin, the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers. As a result, nerve fiber becomes exposed, and communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted.
Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
Most patients with MS begin experiencing symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40. Initial symptoms often include:
- Blurred or double vision
- Loss of vision in one eye
- Color distortion
As the disease progresses, symptoms may become more severe. However, MS symptoms vary from patient to patient. Common symptoms include:
- Numbness or weakness in the limbs or throughout one side of the body
- Tingling or pain throughout the body
- Pain during eye movement
- Difficulty with coordination and balance
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty controlling the bowels and bladder
Many patients with MS experience periods of remission, followed by relapses or the appearance of new symptoms. Over the course of their lifetime, patients may experience very different symptoms as the disease progresses.
Multiple Sclerosis Causes
The cause of MS is unknown. Many physicians and researchers believe MS is an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues.
Multiple Sclerosis Risk Factors
There are many different risk factors of MS, including:
- Age – MS most often affects people between the ages of 15 and 60.
- Gender – Women are twice as likely as men to develop MS.
- Personal health history – People with type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and thyroid disease have a higher risk for MS. In addition, those who have had certain infections are more likely to develop MS. Some viruses, including Epstein-Barr, have been linked to MS.
- Family health history – People with parents or a sibling with MS are at a higher risk.
- Race – White people of Northern European descent have the highest risk of developing MS.
- Climate – MS is much more common in areas with temperate climates, such as the northern United States, Canada and Europe.
Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis
Our specialists use a variety of techniques to diagnose MS. Your doctor will start by gathering a thorough health history on you and your family and conducting a neurologic examination.
Your doctor may also order diagnostic tests that help to rule out other conditions that sometimes cause similar symptoms. These tests include:
- Blood tests
- Evoked potential tests, which detect whether there is a delay when your nervous system responds to stimuli
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain or spine
- Spinal fluid analysis, or spinal tap
Multiple Sclerosis Treatment
Although MS cannot be fully cured, treatment can help significantly. In most cases, the goal is to give patients the opportunity to live fulfilling, independent lives.
Our comprehensive treatment approach for MS includes both medical treatments aimed at stopping or slowing the disease’s progression, as well as therapies to reduce pain, fatigue, spasticity and other symptoms. Social services are also important to assist family members in learning how to adjust to the disease.
Multiple Sclerosis Center
The Multiple Sclerosis Center at Wake Forest Baptist focuses on the comprehensive management of MS. We provide specialized clinical expertise and wide-ranging medical, mental health and rehabilitation services for people with MS. Because of this specialization, the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Wake Forest Baptist is designated as a Comprehensive Center of Care by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.