Since the central nervous system is compromised of the brain and spinal cord, any disease which is known to attack this system is generally pretty debilitating to the patient. Multiple sclerosis is no different. Also known as MS, this autoimmune disease primarily attacks the nerve endings and communication pathways that run between the brain or spinal cord and the rest of the body. Symptoms widely vary between patients, depending on the level of progression of the disease, as well as the course that the disease is taking within the patient’s body.
Early Signs and Symptoms
Again, because of the wide range of symptoms that may affect an individual, the early stages of MS may look different from person to person. Typically, one of the first tell-tale signs of MS is inflammation of the optic nerve, also known as optic neuritis. Other common symptoms include mental and physical exhaustion, muscle spasms, issues with maintaining control over the bladder, vertigo and a loss of balance, numbness, tingling, and pain throughout the body. Some have reported experiencing what has been named an “MS hug.” An MS hug feels like a heart attack to some, typically associated with a band of burning, achy pain located around the rib cage area, lasting for seconds in some patients and for hours in others. A patient may experience sharp, stabbing pain in the chest making it difficult to breathe, or a tingling sensation throughout the body, which generally is what prompts the fear of an impending heart attack.
As the disease progresses, a patient will likely notice an increase in the number and severity of the symptoms that they feel at one time. Many report frequent urinary tract infections from underactive bladders, constipation or incontinence, and significant pain with more frequent and uncontrollable muscle spasms. Some patients may develop cognitive decline, including a decrease in vocabulary and the ability to speak. Others in severe cases may develop problems swallowing and may enter a vegetative state. One out of every three cases of MS is known to lose the ability to walk and will become primarily immobile in the later stages of the disease.
4 Courses of MS
There is no known reason as to why, but multiple sclerosis has four different courses that the disease is known to run depending on the patient. First, Clinically Isolated Syndrome, or CIS, is defined as the very first episode of symptoms that are associated with MS. In order to be classified as CIS, the episode must have a duration of at least 24 hours. Typically, an MRI is run to determine the extent of nerve damage within the central nervous system and to determine the likelihood of a second neurologic episode.
Relapsing-Remitting MS, or RRMS, is the most common course of multiple sclerosis with over 85% of MS patients receiving RRMS as their initial MS diagnosis. A patient with this form will experience well-defined neurological attacks on the body followed by what seems to be a recovery or remission before the cycle repeats. This course can be especially mentally challenging for the patient as it can provide false hope to them that they are improving before they are suddenly relapsing into painful, debilitating symptoms once again.
Third, the beginning stages of Secondary Progressive MS, or SPMS, mimic RRMS. Often, patients initially diagnosed with RRMS will later be categorized as having SPMS, depending on how the disease progresses. SPMS is defined as the course which transitions from the relapse-recovery period into a steady decline in neurologic function.
Lastly, Primary Progressive MS, or PPMS, is defined by a steady decline in neurologic function from the initial onset of symptoms. There is no relapse-recovery period during this course of the disease. While typically more severe, only about 15% of patients are diagnosed with their MS taking this course.
Treatment and Outlook
While there are many different treatments and drug trials in the works, as of now, there is no known cure for multiple sclerosis. However, countless researchers and scientists are working around the world to find a cure or more effective treatments for this debilitating disease. Current treatments depend on the stage and course of the disease as well as the symptoms that the patient is experiencing but primarily focus on alleviating symptoms. MS is not known to be a fatal disease, but complications that arise from the disease can potentially be deadly as it progresses.