What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the central nervous system, which includes your brain, spinal column and optic nerve. Specifically, MS disrupts communication between your brain and the rest of your body.
Doctors categorize MS as an autoimmune disorder. Normally, your immune system fights off foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. In MS, your immune system mistakenly attacks the material that surrounds and protects your nerves. Damage to this material, known as the myelin sheath, leaves scars.
In fact, the word sclerosis means “scar tissue,” so multiple sclerosis means “scar tissue in multiple areas.” The damage and subsequent scarring slow down or completely block messages between your brain and the rest of your body.
Also known as plaques or lesions, these areas of scar tissue mainly affect certain parts of the body, including:
- The brain stem, which is the stalk-like cord that connects your brain to your spinal cord
- The cerebellum, which controls balance and coordinates movement
- The spinal cord
- The optic nerves
- White matter in some areas of the brain
What are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
Damage to the myelin sheath causes the symptoms of MS. When damage occurs to nerves, muscle weakness, balance and coordination issues, and even unpleasant sensations may develop. Damage to the optic nerve, which carries messages from your eyes to your brain, can cause visual disturbances.
Symptoms of MS include:
- Visual disturbances
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble with your balance and coordination
- Sensations, such as numbness or “pins and needles”
- Thinking and memory problems
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
MS is a chronic condition, which means it can last for years or even be a lifelong condition. Researchers have not yet determined the exact cause of multiple sclerosis, but they do know that something triggers the immune system to attack the myelin sheath. A combination of factors, such as environmental and genetic factors, may contribute to the development of MS. Researchers are currently investigating the role bacteria and viruses, particularly the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that causes mononucleosis (mono), may play in the development of multiple sclerosis.
Diagnosis of MS
There are no specific tests for multiple sclerosis. To diagnose MS, a doctor reviews the patient’s medical history and symptoms, and performs a physical exam and neurological exam. The practitioner might also order an MRI and other tests.
Multiple Sclerosis Treatment
While there is no cure, multiple sclerosis treatment with medications can slow its progression and help control the symptoms of MS. These medications, administered by mouth, injection or infusion, change the way your immune system functions.
Injectable medications include:
- Glatiramer acetate: (Copaxone and Glatopa)
- Interferon beta 1-a (Avonex and Rebif)
- Interferon beta-1b (Betaseron and Extavia)
- Peginterferon beta-1a) (Plegridy)
Oral medications include:
- Dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera)
- Fingolimod (Gilenya)
- Mavenclad (cladribine)
- Mayzent (siponimod)
- Teriflunomide (Aubagio)
Infused medications include:
- Alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)
- Mitoxantrone (Novantrone)
- Natalizumab (Tysabri)
- Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus)
Taking some of these medications in the early stages of MS, before symptoms become severe, can help slow the progression of multiple sclerosis. Other medications, such as mitoxantrone, is more effective when taken in the later stages of MS.
Complementary and alternative therapies may help alleviate some symptoms of MS. These therapies may include:
- Heat and massage
- Stress management
- A healthy diet
- Quitting smoking or avoiding smoke
The physicians at New England Neurology deliver the highest quality health care to the Merrimack Valley, and provide exceptional multiple sclerosis treatment. Our neurology team is skilled in administering medications to help slow the spread of MS. Contact us today to learn more.