What does an MS attack feel like?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder in which your own antibodies (autoantibodies) start attacking and destroying the nerve cells of your body. This disease affects the central nervous system, which is responsible for various functions including, balance, and coordination.
MS is a progressive neurological condition that waxes and wanes, i.e., the symptoms keep occurring at certain intervals. The symptom-free periods are known as remissions and when the symptoms return, the recurrence is referred to as an attack, exacerbation, or relapse.
The main feature of MS is symptomatic episodes that reappear after several months or years.
During an MS attack, you may experience some symptoms you have had before getting worse, or some new symptoms appear.
These can include:
- Sensory loss: Tingling and numbness are seen in the fingers and toes. This is the earliest symptom.
- Muscle related symptoms: cramps and tightness in the muscles
- A triad of abnormal speech, abnormal eye movement, and hand tremor
- Problems with balance and coordination
- Visual disturbances
- An uncontrollable urge to pee, bladder incontinence
- Bowel incontinence
- Trigeminal neuralgia: face pain
- Intolerance to heat
How does multiple sclerosis begin?
The brain sends signals to various organs of the body through nerve fibers. These nerve fibers are enveloped in a fatty cover known as the myelin sheath.
MS starts developing when your immune system attacks the myelin sheath and destroys it. The process is known as demyelination results in damaging the nerve cell and, subsequently, the functioning of the nervous system gets disturbed.
What exactly triggers the immune system in MS is unknown. But it has been observed that many of the MS attacks happen after stressful events. Scientists have also speculated the role of multiple factors, including genetic factors and environmental factors in the development of MS.
What are the four stages of MS?
While doctors cannot predict how MS goes through various stages, they have identified four basic MS disease courses (also called types or phenotypes) as follows:
- Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS): CIS is the first attack of neurologic symptoms of MS. People who experience the first attack of MS may or may not progress to the full spectrum of MS.
- Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS): This is the most common disease course and is diagnosed in 85% of MS patients. Attacks (relapses or exacerbations) are followed by periods of partial or complete recovery (remissions) with no apparent progression.
- Secondary progressive MS (SPMS): Initially, SPMS has remissions and relapses as in RRMS. Some people with RRMS will eventually experience worsening of the disease and progress to SPMS.
- Primary progressive MS (PPMS): From the beginning, this disease course progresses without apparent remissions or relapses.
Is depression a side effect of MS?
Getting diagnosed with MS can make you depressed. While physical symptoms include losing balance and coordination while doing daily activities and memory loss, they may also lower your confidence and make you feel down.
Depression in MS can be a side effect of the medications for MS such as interferon. It is important to discuss with your doctor if you are feeling depressed so that he can modify your treatment and refer you to a counselor.
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Scientists don't know the exact cause of either problem. However, they have discovered that mutations in the gene that produces the SOD1 enzyme were associated with some cases of familial ALS. Scientists also theorize that multiple sclerosis may be caused by infection or vitamin D deficiency. ALS occurs between 50-70 years of age (the average age of occurrence ALS is 55), and mostly affects men. While MS occurs between 20-60 years of age, and mostly affects women. About 30,000 people in the US have ALS, and an average of 5,000 new diagnoses per year (that's about 15 new cases per week). Worldwide, MS affects more than 2.3 million people, with about 10,000 new cases diagnosed each year (that's about 200 new diagnoses per week).
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.
There is no cure for either disease, however the prognosis and life expectancy are different. Multiple sclerosis is not a fatal condition, while ALS progresses rapidly and leads to death.
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