Multiple sclerosis attacks the protective coating around the nerves throughout the body, including those in the brain. Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease, which means that it typically becomes worse over time.
As it progresses, a person often notices their movement, speech, and other bodily functions becoming impaired. Eventually, these impairments can become life-altering.
According to research that the National Multiple Sclerosis Society part funded, nearly 1 million people in the United States are living with multiple sclerosis (MS). There is no cure for MS, but treatment can reduce the severity of its symptoms.
One potential treatment that people living with MS may opt for is surgery. Below, we discuss some of the most common surgical procedures for MS as well as the advantages and risks of having surgery to treat this condition.
MS can cause severe nerve pain, which often affects the face and head. Sometimes, even mild stimulation of this area of the body can trigger pain. Rhizotomy is a surgical option that can help address facial pain.
Rhizotomy involves cutting away a section of a nerve. Although this treatment is effective, it also causes the face to become numb.
Doctors sometimes recommend rhizotomy to treat severe spasticity in MS. Spasticity refers to muscle stiffness and contractions.
Muscle tremors are another common symptom of MS. One potential treatment for tremors involves the use of implanted electrodes that shock the thalamus, the part of the brain responsible for this symptom.
The surgeon implants a device in the chest that connects to the implanted electrodes in the brain. This device sends electrical signals to the brain, and these shocks interrupt the activity in the thalamus. As a result, a person may experience either less severe tremors or no tremors at all.
A person can adjust the power of the shocks as necessary. They can also turn off the device if other treatments interfere with it.
However, deep brain stimulation is not suitable for everyone with MS, and doctors will usually not consider it as an option for a person who can manage their MS symptoms with medications and other therapies.
A person living with MS may also experience changes in spasticity.
Baclofen is a medication that targets the brain and allows the muscles to relax. Oral forms of baclofen cause significant side effects, including nausea, headaches, and exhaustion. If a doctor injects baclofen into the spine, however, it causes fewer side effects and is more effective.
A person living with MS may opt to have surgery to implant a baclofen pump, which the surgeon will place near the spinal cord. The device automatically injects baclofen on a regular basis. A healthcare professional will need to refill the pump whenever the medication starts to run out.
Surgeries that treat MS symptoms may offer some advantages over medications, at-home treatments, and alternative therapies. However, a person should speak to their doctor about whether surgical interventions may work for them.
One potential advantage is that surgery can produce long-lasting results. Both electrical impulses and a baclofen pump can provide long-term relief with minimal or no intervention necessary from the person using them.
All surgical procedures involve some risk, and most people will have concerns about undergoing surgery.
However, fear of anesthesia should not be one of them. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, most people living with MS are not at higher risk than people without MS when going under anesthesia.
In addition, experts consider the risks during surgery to be about the same between people living with MS and those not.
A person should talk to their doctor about any procedure that they are considering and ask about the risks that are specific to the surgery. For example, the insertion of a pump may cause soreness at the site of the incision. A person with a pump may also experience some of the side effects of the medication itself, but these are often reduced compared with the oral version.
For people living with MS, surgery may be a valid option to help alleviate some symptoms.
However, doctors may not consider people for surgery if therapies and medications are effective for them.
A person should discuss their situation with their doctor to determine whether surgery is the best course of action to minimize the severity of their MS symptoms.