Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, causing a wide range of symptoms that can vary greatly among individuals. MS is characterized by various clinical subtypes, the most common being relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) and progressive MS.
"Recognizing the signs and symptoms of MS is crucial for early diagnosis and effective management of the condition," says Diana N. Andino, MD, Neurology at ARC Four Points. "With advancements in research and medical interventions, there is hope for individuals living with MS."
By understanding that multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease, that is driven by neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, patients and their healthcare providers can work together to explore tailored treatment options, enabling a better quality of life and a brighter future despite the challenges posed by this disease.
Common symptoms associated with MS
- Fatigue: One of the most prevalent symptoms of MS is extreme fatigue, which can significantly impact daily activities and quality of life.
- Numbness and tingling: MS often causes numbness or tingling sensations, typically in the face, body, or extremities. This occurs due to the damage to the nerves' protective covering.
- Muscle weakness: Weakness and difficulty in coordination, leading to muscle stiffness and difficulty walking, are common symptoms of MS.
- Vision problems: Blurred vision, double vision, or pain during eye movement can occur due to inflammation of the optic nerve.
- Dizziness and vertigo: Many individuals with MS experience dizziness, lightheadedness, or a spinning sensation (vertigo) due to disrupted nerve signals.
- Pain and spasms: Chronic pain, muscle spasms, and stiffness are common complaints among MS patients, affecting their overall comfort and mobility.
- Problems with bowel and bladder function: MS can disrupt the normal functioning of the bowel and bladder, leading to issues such as constipation, diarrhea, or urinary incontinence.
- Cognitive changes: Some individuals may experience difficulties with cognitive functions, including memory, attention, and problem-solving, which can affect their work and daily activities.
- Emotional changes: MS can lead to mood swings, depression, or anxiety, often triggered by the challenges of living with a chronic illness.
- Speech and swallowing difficulties: MS can impair the muscles involved in speech and swallowing, causing slurred speech or difficulty in swallowing.
- Tremors: Involuntary shaking or trembling of certain parts of the body can occur in individuals with MS.
How is MS Diagnosed?
Diagnosing MS involves a combination of medical history assessment, neurological examinations, and various tests, including:
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Imaging tests like MRI are used to detect lesions or areas of demyelination in the central nervous system, a hallmark of MS.
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): This test involves analyzing the cerebrospinal fluid to check for abnormal immune system activity and the presence of specific proteins associated with MS.
- Evoked potentials: These tests measure the electrical activity in the brain in response to stimuli, helping to identify any delays or disruptions in nerve signals.
- Blood tests: Blood tests are performed to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms and to assess overall health and immune system function.
Early diagnosis and appropriate management, often involving a multidisciplinary approach with medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications, can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals living with MS. "Although there is not yet a cure for MS," says Dr. Andino," your physician can work closely with you to prescribe and monitor disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) that can slow the progression of the disease and reduce acute relapses."
Make an appointment today
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seeking prompt medical attention is crucial for timely diagnosis and tailored treatment. You can make an appointment online with an ARC Neurologist with ARC MyChart or by visiting the ARC Neurology web page to find the ARC Clinic closest to you.