Multiple sclerosis treatment options
Multiple sclerosis (MS) causes damage to the sheath that surrounds and protects nerve fibers in your central nervous system. This inflammation can affect your vision, balance and muscle movement, and cause tingling feelings, weakness and loss of coordination. It can also lead to bowel or bladder problems and memory loss. Medicine and rehabilitation can help manage your symptoms and maintain function.
The cause of MS is not known, but genes increase your risk for the disease. Certain environmental factors may also contribute to your risk. There is no way to prevent MS, but lifestyle changes may improve your quality of life and reduce your symptoms.
Your doctor will carry out a physical and neurological examination, ask about your symptoms and look at your medical history to decide whether you have MS. There is no single test to confirm a diagnosis. In some cases, your doctor will order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to show whether you have lesions or scarring in the brain and spinal cord.
An MRI is an imaging technique that uses a computer to take pictures of the brain and spinal cord. It can show if there is scarring in the sheath that surrounds your nerve fibres, called myelin. The scarring is sometimes referred to as plaques or lesions. These can interfere with the messages that travel along your nerves. The interruptions can make them slow down, jumble or send them the wrong message, or stop them getting through completely. The scarring can also permanently damage nerves.
Symptoms of MS can be unpredictable and vary from one person to another. Your doctor will diagnose you if you have 2 attacks that last at least 24 hours and more than 1 area of myelin damage in different parts of the central nervous system (the brain, optic nerves, spinal cord or cerebellum). Your doctor will also need to rule out other conditions that can cause the same symptoms.
It is more common for women than men to get MS. This may be because hormones affect how your immune system responds. Other factors that can increase your risk of developing MS include being born closer to the equator, having a family member with MS and having low Vitamin D levels.
There is no single trigger for MS, and it is not clear what makes your immune system attack healthy nerve cells. There is also no known way to prevent it, but research is ongoing to develop methods to predict who will get the disease and identify possible triggers. This might be useful for developing preventative therapies, although these would need to be tested in clinical trials before they could be used to treat people who already have the disease.