What is MS?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which a person’s immune system attacks the cells of their brain and spinal cord. The exact cause of MS is unknown. It is an autoimmune disease -- a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues.
MS damages the nervous system to the extent that most of the patients are physically disabled in a span of 20 to 25 years. There can be symptom-free periods in between symptomatic episodes occurring months to years apart that damage different parts of the body. Some patients may not have symptom-free intervals and may experience steadily progressive worsening of symptoms.
Causative factors for MS, according to researchers:
- Role of genes
- Viral infections
- Low vitamin D levels
What are the first signs of MS?
MS presents differently in different individuals affected. Some people are affected mildly, whereas others lose their ability to read, write and speak. The early symptoms include:
- Numbness, and pins and needles sensation
- Muscle cramps and stiffness
- Bladder problems: Frequency urinating, urgency and inability to hold urine
- Bowel problems: Diarrhea, constipation and loss of bowel control
- Sexual dysfunction: Lack of arousal
- Slurred speech
- Uncontrollable shaking or tremors
- Vision problems
- Eye pain
- Double vision, especially when looking sideways
- Facial pain
- Intolerance to heat: People with MS often report an increase in fatigue or weakness when exposed to high temperatures (especially hot, humid weather), exercise, hot showers or baths, or with a fever. They may also complain of blurred vision when exposed to heat.
- Fatigue is seen in more than two-thirds of the patients.
- Generalized body and joint aches
- Reduced attention span, concentration, memory, and judgment
- Personality changes
- Difficulty walking
- Excessive itching
- Difficulty maintaining balance
What are the symptoms of MS in a woman?
MS is two times more common in women than in men. The symptoms of MS are largely similar in both men and women. However, the female hormones may make the manifestation of MS different in women. Common symptoms reported by women with MS are:
- Mood swings
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
- Nausea and vomiting
- Worsening of premenstrual symptoms
- Missing periods
- Trouble swallowing
- Difficulty speaking
- Numbness, and pins and needles sensation
- Difficulty in distinguishing between colors
- Trouble doing daily chores
- Lack of sexual arousal
- Inability to sense whether an object is hot or cold
- Muscle spasms
- Hearing loss
- Uncontrollable shaking or tremors
- Worsening of MS symptoms after menopause
What happens if a woman with MS becomes pregnant?
Fortunately, MS has not been shown to cause infertility. The physical symptoms, however, can lead to a difficult pregnancy. Many women report their symptoms become mild during pregnancy. Reduced flare-ups have also occurred during pregnancy. The beneficial effect of pregnancy on MS is transient. Women often experience a flare-up of MS symptoms postpartum. Some even experience worsening of symptoms due to the stress of pregnancy on the body.
Pregnant women and women planning pregnancy should discuss with their physicians optimal care for the mother and baby.
What age does MS start?
Symptoms of MS usually begin between the ages of 20 to 40 years. However, MS can occur at any age.
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Some of the signs and symptoms of both diseases include muscle weakness, muscle spasms, problems walking, fatigue, slurred speech, and problems swallowing. ALS signs and symptoms that are different from MS include problems holding the head upright, clumsiness, muscle cramps and twitches, problems holding objects, and uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying. MS signs and symptoms that are different from ALS include vision problems, vertigo and balance problems, sexual problems, memory problems, depression, mood swings, and digestive problems.
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