Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue around the central nervous system.
There is no known way to cure MS or prevent it from developing. However, a person may be able to slow down the progression of the condition.
In this article, learn more about MS, including its possible progression types, some symptoms, and the treatment options.
A person cannot prevent the onset of MS, as doctors do not yet know the exact cause.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), some risk factors may include:
- Sex: Females are two to three times more likely to develop MS than males.
- Age: Healthcare professionals commonly diagnose MS in people who are 20–50 years of age.
- Ethnicity: MS is most common among white people of northern European ancestry.
- Genes: Although doctors do not know the inheritance pattern of MS, a person may have a higher chance of developing it if they are related to a person who has it.
It is not possible to modify any of these factors.
Although, according to research, there is currently no cure for MS, there are ways to slow the progression of the condition.
There are a few ways in which a person may be able to slow the progression of MS.
The sections below will discuss these in more detail.
Early diagnosis is important, as permanent neurological damage can occur in the earliest stages of MS. Getting an early diagnosis means that a person can begin the appropriate treatment as soon as possible.
It is important to visit a doctor for regular checkups to catch the condition and start treatment at the earliest possible stage.
A doctor should start prescribing medications that will help slow the progression of the condition as soon as they have diagnosed it.
These medications may include:
- oral medications, such as teriflunomide (Aubagio) and siponimod (Mayzent)
- infused medications, such as alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) and mitoxantrone (Novantrone)
- injected medicines, such as interferon beta-1b (Betaseron) and glatiramer acetate (Copaxone)
If a person is experiencing a major flare-up, there are a few drugs and treatments that may help relieve the symptoms in the short-term.
- A dose of corticosteroids: This may reduce inflammation and shorten the duration of a flare-up.
- An injection of an adrenocorticotropic hormone gel: This drug provides an extended release of the hormone as an alternative to glucocorticoids. The drug has limited use due to cost and availability.
- Plasmapheresis: During a severe flare-up, a doctor may consider plasmapheresis if a person’s condition is not responding to steroids. However, it may not be an effective treatment for MS. Plasmapheresis is a transfusion of blood plasma.
People with MS should try to avoid a diet high in saturated fat. This is because it can increase the nuclear factor κB (NF-κB), which is a protein that can affect inflammation.
According to some 2018 research, NF-κB activation in T cells, microglia, and astrocytes can promote the development of MS.
Foods that contain high amounts of vitamin D include:
- portabello mushrooms
- soy milk
There is research that strongly suggests that exercise is a powerful tool against the progression of MS.
The scientists showed that regular aerobic exercise can help reduce fatigue and increase muscle strength and balance for people with MS. Increased flexibility could also reduce spasticity and help with walking and gait difficulties.
There are a few things that can exacerbate MS symptoms. In most cases, however, people can take steps to reduce this risk.
- Smoking: According to the Multiple Sclerosis Trust, smoking can increase the chance of chest infections and, in turn, increase the chance of a relapse. Quitting may help reduce this risk.
- Heat: When the weather is very hot or humid, people with MS may experience a worsening of symptoms. Staying inside during hot weather may help.
- Stress: Stress from a lack of sleep, emotional upheaval, illnesses, or anxiety may aggravate a person’s MS symptoms. Trying techniques to lower stress, such as meditation, may also help reduce symptoms.
- Childbirth: According to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, 20–40% of women have a flare-up following childbirth. This does not mean that a woman with MS should avoid pregnancy, but they should prepare for a relapse shortly after the birth.
MS is an autoimmune condition that attacks the central nervous system. It causes inflammation, which damages the myelin sheaths around a person’s nerves.
Healthy myelin acts as protection and insulation for the nerve fibers. These help signals travel around a person’s body, from the brain and spinal cord to the limbs and extremities, such as the hands and feet.
The damaged myelin becomes weak and symptoms of MS can occur.
Common MS symptoms include:
- walking difficulties
- numbness or tingling
- spasticity, wherein the muscles tighten or become stiff
- visual difficulties, such as blurring and double vision
- bladder dysfunction
- sexual dysfunction, such as painful intercourse or decreased libido
- pain and itching
- cognitive and emotional changes
Some less common symptoms of MS include:
- speech issues
- difficulty swallowing
- breathing issues
- hearing loss
The NMSS state that MS presents in four common courses:
- Clinically isolated syndrome: This is the first set of neurological symptoms that last more than 24 hours. It is associated with a discrete lesion in the central nervous system. It can be the first event and eventually lead to a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS or stay as an isolated event without any progression or new symptoms.
- Relapsing-remitting MS: This causes multiple neurological symptoms with associated lesions, or “white spots,” in the brain and spinal cord. Such symptoms typically improve and people can go long periods of time before experiencing any new symptoms.
- Secondary progressive MS: In this type, the condition continues to worsen and symptoms increase in severity. Secondary progressive MS tends to follow relapsing-remitting MS around 10–20 years after the first symptoms begin.
- Primary progressive MS: In this type, a person with MS will experience a gradual but steady worsening of symptoms over at least a year.
A person should see a doctor quickly when they start experiencing possible MS symptoms for the first time. Early detection and treatment are vital for minimizing symptoms and long-term damage.
A person should also seek medical attention if they experience an unmanageable flare-up and are in need of immediate relief, or if their symptoms start worsening at a faster rate.
A doctor can help with short-term solutions and prescribe a different treatment if the condition’s long-term progression pattern has changed.
Although MS is a chronic condition, there are some ways to manage it with drugs and lifestyle changes.
There is no complete cure or prevention method, but diet, exercise, medications, and early detection can go a long way in slowing its progression.
Avoiding certain environments and situations can also help reduce flare-ups, and a doctor can help if a person is experiencing a lot of uncomfortable symptoms.
Many people with MS live full and satisfying lives.