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If you often feel cramps in any of your limbs, experience extreme fatigue followed by pain or tingling sensation in your legs or arms, do not ignore it.
Multiple sclerosis is a nerve disorder that can strike one at any age. Nearly 2.5 million people are diagnosed with this disease across the globe, yet not many of us know much about it.
Top reasons why you should be aware about multiple sclerosis:
- Its symptoms can be easily misidentified as those of other ailments like chronic fatigue syndrome, poor eyesight, Parkinson's disease etc. It generally takes a while before you get diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
- It is a degenerative ailment. So the more you know about its symptoms, the better you are able to manage it and slow down its progress. You can do it by adopting necessary measures like lifestyle changes and symptomatic management etc.
- It affects your life in a big way. Your mobility is affected, you are not able to concentrate well, your eyesight may weaken, your may become prone to bladder incontinence and many other conditions may follow.
- Your libido may get affected. If you are finding it difficult to maintain interest in sexual life, them it multiple sclerosis may be causing it.
- If you are grappling with depression, then nerve damage due to multiple sclerosis may be a possible reason behind it.
As we celebrate 27th May as World Multiple Sclerosis day, let us explore what multiple sclerosis is and what causes it:
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease. In this disease, your own immune system starts attacking myelin. Myelin is the sheath that protects your nerves. When myelin protection is destroyed, the nerves of the brain, the spinal cord as well as the eyes are adversely affected.
This ruins the co-ordination between your brain and rest of the body parts, leading to various difficulties like poor eyesight, muscular fatigue and spasm, difficulty in movement and many others.
Depending on the severity and location of the nerve damage, multiple sclerosis can be divided into mild, moderate or severe. For every man suffering from multiple sclerosis, double the number of women is diagnosed with the same ailment.
What are the visible symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
The severity of the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis varies with the extent of nerve damage from person to person. Its common signs and symptoms are:
- Muscular weakness:
Weakness in limbs occurs mostly on one side of the body. Numbness may also follow.
The patient may experience pain or tingling sensation in any part of the body.
You may develop uneven or wobbly gait along with tremors. There is lack of muscular co ordination while moving as the signals from your brain cells lose their connectivity with your legs. The muscles become weak and you have trouble balancing your body while walking. It is generally followed by extreme muscular fatigue.
You may get blurred or double vision. There is a loss of eyesight partly or completely. It mostly happens in one eye at a time. Pain in the eye as you move it is also a common occurrence in multiple sclerosis.
You may feel shaking or tremors in any part of your body. It happens involuntarily, making the task of moving around difficult.
Slurring of speech occurs due to lack of muscular co ordination between the tongue and the brain. Speech disorders are quite common in cases of multiple sclerosis.
- Extreme fatigue:
You may experience feelings of extreme tiredness. Most of multiple sclerosis patients leave their jobs as they just feel too fatigued to go through the day.
- Bladder and bowel problems:
Having problem in controlling bladder and bowel movements is seen in half the number of multiple sclerosis patients. Constipation or diarrhea is very common which may aggravate to bladder incontinence, if not treated in time.
You may feel the sudden urge to empty your bladder and may find it difficult to hold it back. This may cause urine incontinence. You may find yourself visiting the toilet at night many times due to increased urination.
- Dizziness and vertigo:
You may feel dizzy and it may appear as your head is spinning too fast. In vertigo, you feel the room around you is moving in circles and you are not able to balance yourself.
- Head movements:
You may get electric shock like feeling as you move your head around.
- Muscular spasms:
You may experience contraction or spasm in your muscles. It may be painful and makes movement difficult as your muscles stiffen up.
- Sexual dysfunction:
Most men and women lose interest in sex due to multiple sclerosis. The men find it harder to achieve and maintain an erection due to multiple sclerosis. Women also find it difficult to experience orgasm due to this condition.
- Cognitive problem:
As the nerve impulses are disrupted, nearly half the people afflicted with multiple sclerosis experience cognitive difficulties. It includes problem in memory, concentration and recall.
- Emotional problem:
As the myelin sheath is damaged, the brain nerves get adversely affected. This causes changes in the brain structure leading to emotional problems and even depression in people with multiple sclerosis.
What puts you at risk for developing Multiple Sclerosis?
There is no specific reason for getting multiple sclerosis. It is an auto immune ailment that is chronic and degenerative. However, here are some risk factors that make you susceptible to getting multiple sclerosis:
If anyone in your immediate family, like your grandparents, parents, brother or sister has multiple sclerosis, then you are at risk for getting it too.
- Medical history:
If you have type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease or irritable bowel disease, then you are more prone to developing multiple sclerosis than otherwise.
It is seen that if you are a woman then you have double the chance of getting afflicted with multiple sclerosis in comparison to men.
Age is no bar for developing symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It can happen to any person between the age group of 16 to 60 years.
- Smoking habit:
If you are a heavy or regular smoker, then you are in a high risk zone for getting multiple sclerosis in comparison to non smokers.
- Geographical area:
The further you live away from the equator, the higher is the risk factor for multiple sclerosis. People born in temperate climates are more likely to get multiple sclerosis in comparison to people living in tropical areas.
- Salt intake:
If your diet involves intake of salt in high quantities, then you have a high chance of getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This is because excess salt consumption may trigger autoimmune disorders.
- Vitamin D:
If you have low levels of Vitamin D in your body then your risk for getting multiple sclerosis escalates. Inadequate exposure to sunlight is therefore one of the triggering factors for this disease.
How is Multiple Sclerosis diagnosed?
There are no specific tests to diagnose multiple sclerosis. Your doctor may identify it symptomatically and get other tests done to rule out the possibility of other diseases. The following tests may be done:
It is done to rule out the possibility of infections whose symptoms may be similar to those of multiple sclerosis.
-Lumbar Puncture test:
Spinal fluid is tested to rule out infections whose symptoms may be similar to those of multiple sclerosis.
It also shows any abnormalities in white blood cells that may indicate towards multiple sclerosis.
It is done to identify areas in your brain and spinal cord that are affected with multiple sclerosis.
-Evoked potential test:
This is done to test the speed of information through electrical impulses that your nerves can pass on to other body parts.
What is the treatment for Multiple Sclerosis?
There is no remedy for multiple sclerosis. The line of treatment focuses on your recovery from multiple sclerosis attacks, managing the symptoms like fatigue, pain, muscular spasms, bowel and bladder issues and slowing down the progression of the disease. Apart from medication, you may also be put on physical therapy to build up muscle strength to make movement easier for you.
What lifestyle changes are beneficial in managing Multiple Sclerosis?
Managing multiple sclerosis becomes easier when you adopt certain changes in your daily routine. They are as follows:
Get mild form of exercise like walking, light stretching, yoga, tai chi or swimming. It will help tone your muscle, build core strength and stamina for doing daily tasks.
Eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids like flaxseeds, olive oil, soybean, Brussels sprouts etc. Also take Vitamin D supplements. Eat fresh fruits and veggies to get maximum nutrients and build muscle strength.
3. Keeping your body cool:
Make sure your body temperature is not allowed to rise. Avoid heat or sun exposure as it may make symptoms of multiple sclerosis worse.
4. Staying stress free:
Keep yourself stress free as stress may worsen symptoms of multiple sclerosis. You may get body massage done, take acupressure or do meditation and breathing exercises to relieve mental and physical stress. Enjoy your hobbies to keep yourself enthused.
5. Joining a support group:
If you have the support of your family and friends then coping with the condition of multiple sclerosis becomes much easier. If family is not available, then ask your doctor for joining a support group. Maintain a daily routine to keep yourself busy.
Multiple sclerosis cannot be cured but it can be effectively managed. Your doctor will plan out the treatment including medication and lifestyle changes. It will vary from person to person according to the specific symptoms and their severity. Don’t hesitate to ask or tell your doctor about any symptoms or medicinal side effects. Keep a positive attitude and follow your treatment plan to enjoy an active life with multiple sclerosis.