Sachin was taking a stroll in a park when he felt his legs have slowed down; he couldn't walk with ease any more. For the 10 min walk he took 60 minutes to reach home. After three hours rest, his legs felt better but still he could feel the uneasiness. Few days passed and he started experiencing symptoms like pain in arms and legs, fatigue, head pressure, crawling sensation under scalp, loss of manual dexterity, low blood pressure, light and sound sensitivity, inability to walk more than 25 feet, and generalised anxiety at times. This is one of the true accounts of a person suffering from multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the nerves of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) degenerate. Consequently, the electrical impulses that travel along the nerves decelerate, that is, they become slower. With this, the nerves themselves also get damaged. As more nerves get affected, a person starts to experience progressive interference with functions that are controlled by the nervous system such as vision, speech, walking, writing, and memory," explains Dr. Praveen Gupta, consultant, Neurology.
The exact cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown. Basically, it is an auto-immune disease, where the body's immune system attacks its own tissues. In multiple sclerosis, this process destroys myelin - the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. "Genetic factors as well as environmental factors both play a major role in multiple sclerosis. The chance increases in families where a first-degree relative has the disease. Thus, a brother, sister, parent or child of a person with multiple sclerosis stands a one per cent to three per cent chance of developing multiple sclerosis, adds Dr. Praveen Gupta.
"The most common type of multiple sclerosis is Relapsing-Remitting (RR). In this the patient experiences a series of attacks followed by complete or partial disappearance of the symptoms (remission) until another attack occurs (relapse). It may be weeks to decades between relapses. The second type of multiple sclerosis is Primary-Progressive (PP), there is a continuous and gradual decline in a person's physical abilities from the outset rather than relapses," explains Dr. Praveen Gupta.
Due to the broad range and subtleties of symptoms of multiple sclerosis may not be diagnosed for months to years. Physicians, particularly neurologists, take detailed histories and perform complete physical and neurological examinations. Treatment typically focuses on combating the autoimmune response and managing the symptoms.
"Physician focuses on improving the speed of recovery from attacks. Also, attempt is to slow the progression of the disease, that is, treatment with disease modifying drugs. In addition, medications that alter the immune system, particularly interferons are used," says Dr. Praveen Gupta.
Visual disturbances may be the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis, but they usually subside. A person may notice a patch of blurred vision; Visual symptoms due to optic nerve inflammation (optic neuritis) in multiple sclerosis usually are accompanied or preceded by eye pain. Limb weakness, muscle spasms, fatigue, numbness and prickling pain are common symptoms. There may be a loss of sensation, speech impediment (typically a problem articulating words), tremours, or dizziness, decreased concentration, attention deficits, memory loss and depression.
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