People suffering from multiple sclerosis have a variety of symptoms that they experience. As a nurse, it's important to understand these symptoms and how we can help these individuals. Jessica from ViveHealth.com put together this great article about the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of MS.
Multiple Sclerosis: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Nearly 1 million people in the U.S. are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease which attacks the central nervous system. Depending on the type of MS a patient has, the disease may present in different ways, making it both hard to diagnose and treat. As a nurse, understanding the nature and effects of MS can play a critical role in your patients’ health outcomes.
What Causes MS?
While experts don’t know specifically what causes MS, they do have a good understanding of how it develops. MS largely affects the myelin sheath, a protective membrane made of plasma that envelops the spinal cord and nerve fibers. This sheath facilitates the transmission of electrical signals between the brain and other cells.
In a patient with MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath, breaking it down and damaging the protective layer the nervous system needs to properly function as well as deteriorating nerve fibers. This results in myriad symptoms from neuropathy to motor impairment. Hallmark MS symptoms include one or more of the following:
- Leg weakness and numbness
- Intention or postural tremors
- Balance problems
- Lack of coordination and impaired mobility
- Mild to severe fatigue
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Double vision or jumpy eye movements
- Muscle spasticity
- Trouble speaking
While there is no one thing that causes the progression of MS, researchers have deduced a handful of risk factors including:
Age and sex. Women are 2 to 4 times as likely to get MS as men, and people are most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 60.
Race and family history. White people are more likely to develop MS, especially if they descend from Northern Europe. An immediate family member with MS also increases a patient’s risk.
Certain infections and autoimmune history. MS has been linked to Epstein-Barr virus in some cases, and a history of autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes and thyroid disease seem to increase risk as well.
Climate. MS surprisingly strikes a much larger number of people in temperature climates further from the equator, i.e. Northern U.S., Canada, New Zealand.
Smoking. Smokers progress to secondary MS faster than non-smokers and have a greater risk of worsened disability.
How is MS Diagnosed?
Like many autoimmune diseases, the diagnosis of MS does not come about from the result of a simple test. A variety of state-of-the-art tests coupled with clinical exams helps providers rule out other potential underlying causes of a patient’s symptoms as well as track electrical signals in the body and look at any changes in the brain.
If you encounter a patient with MS, chances are they have undergone blood tests to check for MS biomarkers, lumbar punctures (spinal taps) to check for infection and antibodies, MRIs to scan for MS-related lesions on the brain, and evoked potential tests to monitor how their nervous system processes electrical signals.
To make things more complicated, there are four types of MS with which a patient can be diagnosed, these include:
Relapsing-Remitting MS: This most common MS diagnosis involves new symptoms appearing in temporary flare-ups that dissipate over time.
Secondary-Progressive MS: Most often a progression of relapsing-remitting MS, this type of the disease involves a decline as symptoms get worse over time with or without periods of remission.
Primary Progressive MS: From beginning to end of this less common type of MS, symptoms appear and worsen with no relapsing and no remission.
Progressive-Relapsing MS: This rare MS diagnosis is characterized by a deteriorating progression of the disease from the beginning but with acute relapses and no remission.
How is MS Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure or prescription that completely treats MS. There have been huge strides made in research and medicine, however, as doctors have found aggressive treatment early on in the disease can help slow its progression and prevent brain lesions.
There are over 9 different pharmacological aids including injections, intravenous drugs, and oral pills created specifically for MS that can do various things like help block the immune system’s attack on myelinate neurons, reduce relapses, and inhibit the movement of damaged immune cells to the nervous system.
- Mobility aids and ease-of-use tools can simplify daily tasks for patients with MS. For example, a supportive cane for women can help when MS flare-ups contribute to leg weakness and difficulty walking.
- Physical therapy (as well as speech and occupational therapy) can help a patient with MS retain flexibility, strength, and range of motion as well as address functional and swallowing issues that may arise.
- Medications to address certain symptoms are also often recommended to MS patients including muscle relaxants to treat spasticity, sexual dysfunction and depression aids, and prescriptions to aid bowel or bladder control problems.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.