5 Things to Know about Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Posted on 3 May 2022

It’s International Multiple Sclerosis Month. Dr Alex Landmann, a neurologist at Mediclinic Sandton, explains more about this autoimmune disease.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, a protective layer surrounding the nerve fibres. When this happens, the nerves are unable to communicate messages effectively to different parts of the body, which means that a number of different body functions may be affected. Here’s what you should know.

  1. It’s an invisible disease.

One of the frustrations most keenly felt by MS sufferers is that, although they may experience a wide range of symptoms (from blurred vision to a sensation of pins and needles, chronic pain, fatigue and sensory issues), they look no different from anyone else. This can lead to awkward interactions: because people don’t understand the full extent of sufferers’ discomfort, they tend to lack empathy.


  1. Each MS case is different.

Every patient experiences MS differently: the symptoms that one person finds debilitating may not be experienced at all by another. What’s more, there are, in fact, three different types of MS: Relapsing Remitting MS, where symptoms worsen and are then followed by a recovery; Primary Progressive MS, where symptoms worsen very quickly and there are few episodes of remission; and Secondary Progressive MS, where there is an initial relapsing-remitting course, but after several years there is progressive deterioration. What’s important to note here is that many MS patients find that their symptoms improve, or come and go. However, this doesn’t mean that their MS has been cured; although there are many medications available to treat symptoms and even reduce relapses, there is no cure for MS. That said, MS is not a terminal disease.


  1. MS is difficult to diagnose.

Many of the symptoms experienced by patients are similar to those presenting with other diseases, especially during the early stages of the disease. These include slowed thinking, stumbling more than usual, strange sensations on the skin, and fatigue (the most common symptom of the disease). As the disease progresses, patients may also experience sensitivity to heat, muscle weakness, spasms, pain, problems with vision and hearing, memory loss and bladder problems. Most of these issues are caused by damage to the brain and spinal cord.


  1. MS takes an emotional toll.

It’s to be expected that anyone diagnosed with a lifelong condition will experience a wide range of emotions, from asking if they did anything to bring on the disease (the answer is ‘no’ – researchers are still trying to uncover what triggers MS) to feelings of isolation. This is often exacerbated by the cognitive issues that frequently accompany MS: patients may find that they battle to concentrate or that problem-solving becomes difficult, for example. This can be extremely frustrating, leading to anger and further depression.


  1. The cause of MS remains unknown.

It’s not possible to ‘catch’ MS, as you would a virus, nor is it considered a hereditary disease. Researchers are investigating the link between MS and Vitamin D, as there is an increased incidence in countries that are further away from the equator and therefore receive less sunshine, while other theories suggest that the condition may be triggered by exposure to certain viruses or solvents, as well as obesity or smoking.



Published in Neurology

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