Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a disease of the central nervous system that attacks myelin, the insulating layer that surrounds your brain and spinal cord.
In MS, the immune system attacks myelin which covers nerve fibers that allow signals to be transmitted efficiently along nerve cells. MS slows and blocks these messages between your brain and the rest of the body.
After the myelin is destroyed, it is replaced by scar tissue that can become a lesion. “Sclerosis” literally means scarring. Over a period of time, MS can cause permanent damage and deterioration of the nerves.
Symptoms vary between people with MS and depend on which nerves are affected and the extent of damage to those nerves. Some with MS will have their quality of life seriously affected, while others may be in remission for long periods of time.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), there are almost 1 million people in the United States living with MS. People can develop MS at any stage of life but it commonly occurs around ages 20 and 40. Currently, there is no cure for MS, but they’re varying treatments to manage symptoms.
Learn more about MS symptoms and the different types of the disease here:
As previously mentioned, symptoms of MS vary widely from person to person. Some may only experience mild symptoms while others may lose the ability to walk. Symptoms might be severe one year and mild the next.
MS often affects the movement of the limbs. One might experience numbness in the arms or limbs which typically happens to only one side of the body. Muscles will often feel weak and patients can have difficulty balancing themselves.
The NMSS reports that nearly 80% of MS patients report having fatigue which can make it difficult to complete everyday tasks.
Some of the first symptoms people with MS experience are vision problems. People can have trouble with just one eye or both, and symptoms can be intermittent, worsen over time, or go away completely.
Vision problems can include:
- Diplopia: Double vision
- Optic Neuritis: Causes pain or blurry vision in one eye
- Nystagmus: Involuntary movement of the eyes
Difficulties with Speech
The lesions in the brain caused by MS can affect speech. These issues can either be mild or severe, and include slurred speech, changes in the volume of one’s voice, and long pauses between words or syllables.
Other symptoms of MS may include tremors, chronic pain, cognitive issues (memory, concentration), difficulty chewing and swallowing, sleep issues, and trouble with one’s bladder.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS)
This syndrome is usually the first evidence that someone has MS. With CIS, the patient will experience an episode of symptoms that extends for at least 24 hours.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have MS. Once they do a spinal tap and examine your spinal fluid for lesions, they can determine a diagnosis of MS.
Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)
To receive a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS, the patient will have experienced a series of relapses followed by remissions. Periods of remission are marked by mild symptoms or none at all.
The disease’s progression during RRMS is particularly mild. This is the most common form of MS, representing about 85% of all cases.
Primary-Progressive MS gets exceedingly worse over time. There are little to no remissions with this form of the disease and the symptoms can appear as a wide variety of neurological problems.
Diagnosis of primary-progressive MS usually occurs in people over the age of 40 and causes disabilities in patients earlier than RRMS.
Most who were diagnosed with RRMS will eventually get secondary-progressive MS. Remissions of the disease will become less and less until symptoms remain constant.
The onset of primary-progressive MS usually occurs 10 to 20 years after someone is first diagnosed with RRMS. Patients who still experience some symptoms after a relapse will generally be the ones who step up to secondary-progressive MS quicker than others.
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