Multiple Sclerosis or MS is a progressive autoimmune disorder that destroys the myelin sheaths that protect and cover the nerve cells. The disease affects nearly 3 million people around the world. It affects twice as many women as it does men, and heredity is a key component in vulnerability to this chronic disease and its unpredictable symptoms. MS degenerates bodily function by attacking the cells of the brain, spinal column, and optic nerves, which make up the central nervous system (CNS). Here are some of the common signs and symptoms as well as progression of MS.
A common symptom that Multiple Sclerosis sufferers often contend with is constant tingling and/or numbness that often affects regions of the face and extremities (i.e.–the legs, arms, and fingers) of those individuals with MS, due to nerve cell damage to the CNS.
Another common sign and symptom of early MS is unexplained muscle fatigue and weakness, especially in the legs and feet. This troublesome symptom affects nearly 80 percent of those individuals with early MS. Since Multiple Sclerosis is a progressive disorder, fatigue will become more severe as the nerves of the CNS degenerate.
One of the earliest signs and symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis involves vision problems, which is characterized by slow progression over time and is sometimes accompanied by eye pain. This symptom is the result of inflammation of the optic nerve (optic neuritis), which causes vision impairments and can even result in color blindness.
Another common troublesome and embarrassing symptom that affects approximately 80 percent of MS patients is incontinence. They may suffer from frequent and accidental urination, as well as explosive diarrhea and/or loss of bowel control.
Another common sign and symptom of advanced Multiple Sclerosis is memory loss. Because MS attacks the CNS, it is very common for those individuals with advanced MS to suffer from a combination of memory loss, inability to focus, and speech or language impairments.
Another troublesome and more noticeable common symptom of MS is unpredictable and spontaneous muscle spasms. Muscle spasms are often quite violent and powerful. They can often leave the affected areas sore and stiff afterwards. These jerky and unpredictable spasms can be exhausting and even embarrassing for MS sufferers.
Another element of an individual’s life that can be greatly impacted by Multiple Sclerosis is their libido or sex drive. Stress related to dealing with the disorder can reduce libido, and sexual urges can even disappear for those individuals suffering with the stressful and unpredictable symptoms of MS. Sex can also become a physical challenge due to the degeneration of the CNS and impairment of other bodily functions.
As Multiple Sclerosis progresses, issues with balance, frequent bouts of dizziness (vertigo), and unsteady gait can become troublesome as MS ravages the nerve cells, as well as challenges coordination and mobility. This explains why many MS patients suffer vertigo and walk with a cane for support.
Other common signs and symptoms of advanced Multiple Sclerosis can include epileptic-type seizures, which are very common in MS sufferers in advanced stages of the disease. These seizures most often result from the development of lesions in the area of the brain known as the cerebral cortex, which is the outermost neural tissue that covers and protects the cerebrum, which is the largest part of the brain.
Another element of an individual’s life that can be greatly impacted by Multiple Sclerosis is their mental health. Those individuals suffering with a debilitating and unpredictable condition, such as MS, will often experience a toll on their emotional health, as well as their physical health. This impact explains why many MS sufferers battle with severe depression, irritability, and mood swings.
While some of the common signs and symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis can be troublesome and even disturbing, the pathology and severity of attacks among MS sufferers can very greatly on an individual basis. The disease can be episodic and very transient in nature with long periods of dormancy, especially in the early stages of MS. While with more advanced cases of Multiple Sclerosis, the sufferers’ symptoms can become permanent and often involve some form of paralysis, cognitive and vision issues, speech impairments, as well as difficulties with waste elimination. Moreover, diagnosis of the disease can be delayed or often overlooked, given its unpredictable and transient nature. It can also affect people of varying age groups and backgrounds. Many MS sufferers will be diagnosed between age 15 and 50. However, some individuals affected by MS could be diagnosed as young children or teenagers and even elderly cases are not uncommon. Furthermore, most individuals dealing with Multiple Sclerosis tend to live full and normal lifespans. However, more advanced and severe cases could adversely affect a MS sufferer’s life expectancy. For many MS sufferers, the disease is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma.
By Leigh Haugh
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