MURRAY, Utah (Good Things Utah) – March is National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Month, a time to raise awareness about a neurological disease that affects more than one million Americans.
MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system of the body. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord. The exact cause of MS is currently unknown. However, it is believed that genetic factors, autoimmune disorders, viruses or infections, and environmental factors may place a role.
“MS affects every person differently and no two cases are alike,” said Brett Alldredge, DO, an Intermountain Health physician who specializes in treating MS patients at the Intermountain McKay-Dee Neurology Clinic in Ogden. “Historically, MS was one of the more common causes for neurological disability in young adults, however today we are not seeing this thanks to very effective treatments for the disease.”
In people who have MS, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks a substance called myelin. Myelin is the protective coating around nerve fibers in the central nervous system.
When damaged, the myelin forms scar tissue called sclerosis, which gives the disease its name. This scar tissue interrupts electrical signals traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord, causing a variety of symptoms.
Most people are diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 50, although MS can occur in older adults and young children. MS is most common in women than men. It’s more common in white people of northern European descent versus other ethnic groups.
Symptoms of MS are often unpredictable and can be inconsistent varying among individuals. They may be mild (feeling overly tired or having muscle spasms) or severe (losing the ability to speak or walk), depending on the area of the central nervous system affected.
Symptoms, which can fluctuate between periods of remission (no symptoms) to relapse (also known as attacks), may include the following:
•numbness and tingling
• loss of balance and dizziness
• stiffness or spasms
• bladder problems
• bowel trouble
There is no one test that, by itself, can diagnose MS. Healthcare providers first work to rule out other possible causes of symptoms. They will also perform a complete health history and a neurological exam.
To diagnose multiple sclerosis, healthcare providers will also look for the following evidence of disease-caused damage (markers) in at least two separate areas of the central nervous system, or that occurred at least one month apart.
Unfortunately, there is no current cure for MS. If someone is diagnosed with MS, they’ll work with a team of healthcare providers to help manage the disease. Treatment for MS will be dependent on the symptoms and difficulties a patient has.
Treatment may include:
• Medication to manage symptoms and reduce frequency of attacks
• Rehabilitation activities, such as physical therapy and occupational therapy
• Equipment such as braces or walkers
It’s important for patients to consult with their primary care physicians if they have any symptoms of MS. It will be likely that a patient will be referred to a neurologist who oversees conditions of the nervous system.
Patients diagnosed with MS may need to adapt their lives to the ways MS is affecting their bodies.
“It’s important for patients to practice self-care through exercise, a balanced diet, caring for mental health, and following treatment recommendations made by their physician,” said Dr. Allredge. “Caring for those with MS might start with sharing love and concern followed by a conversation on what the person needs.”
Visit https://intermountainhealthcare.org/services/neurosciences/conditions/multiple-sclerosis/ to learn more about MS symptoms, and specialized providers.
Sponsored By Intermountain Health.