5 important facts about multiple sclerosis (MS)

MS can also lead to:

  • bladder and bowel problems
  • sexual dysfunction
  • tremor
  • difficulties with speech and swallowing
  • mood changes and depression
  • anxiety

The symptoms and progression rate of MS vary from person to person. For example, some symptoms may not be noticeable in the early stages of MS.

Also, some people never develop all the symptoms, whereas others will experience severe symptoms that impact their quality of life.

Symptoms fluctuate and can be hard to predict. They can also worsen over time. In relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), a person will experience a worsening of symptoms for a while, or a flare, followed by a period of partial or complete recovery.

However, the lesions that cause the problems remain, so the symptoms will usually return.

In progressive forms of MS, the symptoms gradually worsen, without any periods of significant recovery. In some aggressive forms of progressive MS, symptoms worsen quickly, and the condition can be life-threatening. However, this is also rare.

Coping with fatigue

David Bexfield, who received a diagnosis of MS in 2006, started a group called ActiveMSers.

He told Medical News Today that people with MS should pay attention to their bodies and do what helps them feel good.

“Thankfully, I don’t have many bad days,” he said. “Daily exercise has helped keep my fatigue in check, one of the most debilitating symptoms of this disease.”

“Few people understand how MS fatigue can be utterly pancaking. Imagine pulling an all-nighter, make that three of them in a row, and then running a marathon. Backwards. On stilts. While juggling chainsaws.”

“Once you get that in your mind, realize that’s not even close to what it feels like. When MS fatigue hits, everything is exhausting: reading, thinking, even listening. And lying down to take a nap doesn’t help.”

Bexfield’s other piece of advice was to get help when possible:

“Check your ego at the door. Handicap parking placards, walking aids, protective undergarments — I’ve used them all. They’ve helped take me down the street, onto the hiking trail, and around the globe. Take advantage of the helpful tools available to you.”

3. It can be difficult to diagnose

Diagnosing MS can be challenging because many of its symptoms overlap with those of other conditions. This means that it can take time for a doctor to reach a diagnosis.

They will review a person’s medical history and perform a physical examination.

Then, they may recommend the following tests to help reach a diagnosis, including ruling out other conditions:

  • blood tests, to rule out other conditions
  • lumbar puncture, to test cerebrospinal fluid for antibodies that may suggest an autoimmune condition
  • MRI scans, which can detect lesions on the brain or spinal cord
  • an evoked potential test, which measures how well messages travel through the nervous system

Getting an early diagnosis can improve the chances that treatment with disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) can slow the progression of MS.

Current guidelines recommend that doctors discuss suitable DMTs with the individual as soon as possible after a diagnosis.

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