Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that may affect individuals at any age from childhood to their 70s and 80s. However, it is typically diagnosed between 20 to 40 years of age and affects women more than men.
19 signs and symptoms of MS
Early signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) are not easy to recognize. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see people receiving a diagnosis years after the signs and symptoms have started. However, the first signs most often are vision problems. This specifically includes the eye condition known as optic neuritis, which causes blurred vision and a painful eye.
Signs and symptoms may vary greatly from person to person and include:
- Paresthesia (feeling of a burning sensation and numbness in the limbs)
- Muscle cramping
- Difficulty speaking
- Rapid involuntary movements of the eyes
- A tremor while trying to pick any object
- Facial weakness on both sides of the face
- Irregular twitching of the facial muscles
- Diplopia (double vision
- Heat intolerance
- Loss of bladder control
- Loss of bowel control
- Difficulty concentration
- Reduced attention span
- Impaired judgment and memory
MS can come in episodes (flare-ups), which means signs and symptoms may come and stay for a specific time and then disappear only to return after some period.
How is MS diagnosed?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a diagnosis of exclusion. This means doctors will first rule out other conditions before making their diagnosis because there is no specific test to confirm it.
Your doctor will ask you about your signs and symptoms, take your medical history, and perform a complete physical examination. They will order a few or all the tests that include:
- Blood tests: Blood tests help rule out other conditions that mimic MS and may include those that indicate infections in the brain or spinal cord.
- Spinal tap: It is also known as lumbar puncture and involves removing cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal cord and sending it to the laboratory for analysis. It shows up abnormalities such as antibodies related to MS, infections, and abnormalities found in other conditions that resemble MS.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): The MRI machine exposes your brain and spinal cord to a strong electromagnetic radiation field. Test results are presented in a film that shows characteristic changes in the affected areas of your brain and spinal cord that are typically found in MS.
- Evoked potential tests: This test involves connecting electrodes to your scalp or other areas to record electrical signals produced by your nervous system in response to stimuli. You will be asked to watch a moving picture or electric stimulus that may be applied to your body. The test then measures the time it takes for the nerves to respond to such visual or electrical stimulation.
How long can you live with MS?
Currently, there is no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS). However, treatments can slow down its progression and help improve your quality of life.
Most people live a normal life span just like people without the condition. For others, survival years may decrease by 5 to 10 years. In the absence of treatment, the condition can lead to physical disability within 20 to 25 years after its onset.
Death in MS usually occurs not directly due to MS but due to complications that result from immobility, chronic urinary tract infections, and extreme difficulty swallowing and breathing. The most common complications that turn life-threatening for you include chronic bedsores, widespread infection, and pneumonia.
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