What Is Multiple Sclerosis (Ms)? Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Multiple sclerosis is a medical condition that is characterized by the disability of the nervous system; it is a demyelinating disease that takes place when the immune system attacks the insulating covers of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord (called myelin) and damages them and this leads to problems in communication between the brain and the body.

This is the most common autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system and it affects 2.3 million people worldwide and thousands of people die yearly from this disease worldwide.

This affects the nerves and can make the nerves to become deteriorated or permanently damaged and it can even impair the ability to walk independently. Failure of the myelin producing cells is also believed to be a cause of Multiple sclerosis; it can also be triggered by viral infection and genetics.

The myelin sheet surrounds and protects the nerve fibers; it helps the nerves to conduct electrical signals quickly and efficiently. When Multiple sclerosis occurs; the myelin sheet disappears in multiple areas leaving a scar or sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis means “scar tissues in multiple areas.” The areas where there is no myelin is called plaques or lesions.

The exact cause of this disease is not yet known but there are many risk factors for it like age, sex (affects more women than men), race (whites are more prone to it than blacks), family history, smoking, infection by the virus Epstein-Barr and autoimmune diseases like diabetes, IBD or thyroid diseases.

Signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis

Signs and symptoms of this disease varies from person to person and it can affect any part of the body; they include numbness or weakness in one or more limbs on a side of your body, gradual loss of vision usually in one eye at a time accompanied with pain during eye movement, then partial or complete loss of vision, prolonged double vision, pain or tingling sensations in parts of the body, tremor and lack of coordination, headache, hearing loss, itching, breathing problems, speech disorders, seizures, problems swallowing, fatigue, muscle spasm, problems with thinking, learning and planning, problems with balance and coordination, dizziness, slurred speech, bowel problems, emotional changes and depression, bladder problem, bowel problem, electric shock sensation that causes certain movements in the neck; some people with MS can also develop epilepsy, depression, sexual dysfunction, mood swings, forgetfulness, leg paralysis, muscle spasms or stiffness.

These symptoms can come and go in phases and they can also progress overtime depending on the type of multiple sclerosis a person has. For now there are no cures for MS but there are treatments that can help one to recover speedily from the attack, manage symptoms and repair the cause of the disease.

Types of multiple sclerosis

  1. Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS): This is a single, first episode of multiple sclerosis with symptoms that last for at least 24 hours.
  2. Primary progressive multiple sclerosis: This is the less common form of multiple sclerosis; it affects 1 in 10 cases of multiple sclerosis; it usually starts with a gradual worsening of symptoms and it accumulates over several years. There are no periods of remission though some people often have their periods where their condition seems to stabilize.
  3. Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis: This is the most common form of multiple sclerosis and it affects 8 out of every 10 people with this condition; it is characterized by episodes of new or worsening symptoms known as “relapses”, these symptoms typically worsen over a few days and can last for days to weeks or months and then it slowly improves over a similar period of time. These relapses often occur without warning and they are sometimes associated with a period of illness or stress.

The symptoms of a relapse may disappear with or without treatment; although they persist in some cases with repeated attacks happening over several years. These periods between attacks are known as “remission” and they can last for years at a time.

  1. Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis: Most people but not all of them with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis will develop secondary progressive multiple sclerosis; it is characterized by gradual worsening over time with obvious attacks, some people will continue to have infrequent relapses during this stage of MS. Almost half of the people with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis will develop secondary progressive MS within 15 to 20 years and the risk increases the longer you have this condition.

Risk factors for multiple sclerosis are:

  • Age; those at risk are usually 20 to 50 years of age.
  • Sex; this condition is common in women than men.
  • Ethnicity; it is common among Europeans
  • Genetic; it can be passed down in the genes to offering
  • Toxic substances like heavy metal or solvent can cause this
  • Infections by viruses can trigger this condition. Examples of viruses that can cause this condition are the Epstein-Barr or mononucleosis and varicella zoster
  • Salt; too much salt in one’s food can trigger an autoimmune reaction.

How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?

Diagnosing multiple sclerosis is complicated; there is no single test that can positively diagnose, it is only diagnosed when other causes of the symptoms are ruled out first. A diagnosis can only be made with full assurance when there is evidence of at least two separate attacks. Some tests carried out to diagnose multiple sclerosis are:

Blood test: These tests are usually carried out to rule out other causes of the symptoms like nutritional deficiencies or neuromyelitis optica.

Neurological examination: This test is used to check for abnormalities, changes or weaknesses in the movement of the eyes, vision, strength of the hand or leg, speech and reflexes and balance and coordination. The results can be used to know whether the nerves are damaged in a way that might suggest multiple sclerosis.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: This test involves using strong electromagnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body; it is painless and it can show whether there is any damage or scarring of the myelin sheet in the brain and spinal cord. This test is used to confirm Multiple sclerosis in most people.

Evoked potential test: There are several types of this test and the most common one used is to assess how well the eyes work; light patterns are shown to the eyes while electrodes which are small sticky patches that are placed on the head are used to monitor the brainwaves. It is also a painless test and it can show whether the brain takes longer than normal to receive messages.

Lumbar puncture: In this test, a needle is inserted into the lower back to remove a sample of the spinal fluid and this fluid is checked for changes which can be used to suggest that there is a problem with the nervous system. It requires anaesthetic; the spinal sample is tested for immune cells and antibodies which is a sign that your immune system has been fighting an infection in the spinal cord or brain. This is a safe test but it can cause headache which last for days as a side effect.

Treatment for multiple sclerosis

There is currently no cure or treatment for this condition but there are few treatments that can help to control the symptoms and the condition; the treatment administered will depend on the specific symptoms and difficulties a patient may have. Treatment may include:

  • Use of steroid medication to treat relapses with short courses and to speed up recovery.
  • Specific treatments for individual symptoms of multiple sclerosis
  • Treatment involving the use of medicines called “disease modifying therapies” to reduce the number of relapses. These disease modifying therapies will help to slow or reduce the overall worsening of disability of multiple sclerosis in people with relapsing remitting MS and also in people with secondary progressive MS who are still experiencing relapses.

Currently, there are no treatments that can slow the progress of primary progressive MS or secondary progressive MS when there are no relapses. This is a lifelong condition and it is very challenging to live with but it is usually mild and rarely fatal; although severe multiple sclerosis can lead to complications like difficulties swallowing and chest or bladder infection. This condition also affects the life span of those affected; it is usually five to ten years lower than average and the gap seems to be getting smaller all the time.

Natural remedies for multiple sclerosis

  • Green tea: It supplies the body with anti-oxidants that help in alleviating the symptoms of MS; its powerful active compound Epigallocatechin-3-gallate boosts the immune system and helps the cells of the brain.
  • Gingko: This plant helps with memory and improves mental clarity; it calms overacting nerve responses, relieves leg pains, improves eye functions and vision, reduce dizziness and tremor which are all symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
  • Cranberry: This helps to stop bladder problems or dysfunction in those with Multiple Sclerosis.
  • Coconut oil: The rich content of medium chain fatty acids contained in this oil helps the brain and the nervous system in correcting the problem and supporting healing.
  • Turmeric: The active ingredient Curcumin present in this powerful herb has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects that help to alleviate the symptoms of MS and other autoimmune diseases.
  • Peppermint: This wonderful plant helps in fighting nerve pain, muscle pains, stress, nausea and headaches. It also helps in treating IBS in MS patients.
  • Ginseng: This powerful herb relieves sexual dysfunction, helps with memory and clear thinking, reduce diabetes and fight colds.
  • Omega-3- fatty acids: Will help in reducing the inflammation; good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are oily fishes, nuts and seeds; although some studies says otherwise but it is not wrong to give it a try.
  • Ginger: Ginger helps with nausea, muscle and joint pains, stomach aches and problems, diarrhea; it also has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.
  • Cabbage and bean sprouts: These foods are high in lecithin and this will help the body to strengthen and protect the nerves.
  • Lemongrass: It prevents seizures and promotes sleep; and relieves other symptoms of MS.

Supplements for Multiple Sclerosis

  • Vitamin A: The anti-oxidant present in this vitamin can help people with MS; it delays muscular degeneration and it is also needed for proper functioning of body organs.
  • Vitamin B1: Studies have linked deficiency of this vitamin to MS, too little of this vitamin in the body gives rise to weaknesses and fatigue. This vitamin aids proper functioning of the brain; it is also needed for healthy functioning of the nerve, muscle and heart and it aids healthy metabolism.
  • Vitamin B6: Deficiency of this vitamin has been linked to autoimmune disorders, abnormal function of the brain, kidney problems, confusion and depression. Those with MS can include vitamin B6 foods in their diet regularly.
  • Vitamin B12: The deficiency of this vitamin leads to weight loss, numbness, tingling, dizziness, confusion, memory problems and nerve damage and it helps the body to form new nerves. This vitamin aids proper functioning of the nerve cells, brain, red blood cells and other important body cells.
  • Vitamin C: This vitamin plays important functions in the immune system, its deficiency cause serious health problems and it helps in protecting people with MS from deterioration.
  • Vitamin D: this vitamin helps to support the brain, nervous system and also helps in strengthening and regulating the immune system.
  • Vitamin E: This vitamin is very important for proper functions of the immune system.
  • Magnesium: Some research have linked a deficiency of this mineral to MS; deficiencies in Magnesium can lead to tingling, fatigue, weakness, cramps, numbness, seizures, muscle contraction and personality changes.
  • Zinc: This mineral boosts the immune system and fights neurodegenerative conditions; and some research have linked deficiency of this vitamin to MS.
  • Fish oil: This helps in reducing inflammation and helps the nerve to function better.
  • Co-enzyme Q: This is an antioxidant that helps in converting the food you eat into energy; it helps in reducing the symptoms of fatigue and depression experienced during MS.
  • Lipoic acid: It helps the brain and helps in reducing brain atrophy.
  • Probiotics: These are good bacteria that help the body in absorbing nutrients thereby preventing malabsorption of nutrients in people with MS. It also boosts immune and neurological functions with its anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplements: Provides the body with basic nutrients that it needs to strengthen the immune system. These need to be prescribed by a doctor because if overtaken; it can lead to toxicity which can result to another health complication.
  • Digestive enzymes: They help in reducing food allergy and autoimmune responses to foods; they also help to digest food.

With these natural remedies, you will be able to manage your symptoms easily till your body overcomes this disease. These remedies are not to replace your normal medication or any advice given by your doctor but it is to aid the effectiveness of the medications and to speed up recovery. Before taking any herb or supplement alongside your medication; ask your doctor if it is safe to do so.

What to avoid

  • Avoid processed foods: Processed foods contain unnatural chemicals, food additives, sweeteners and colourings that can increase the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, it contains gluten also that makes the symptoms worse and people with MS are generally intolerant to gluten. Besides processed foods have been stripped of most of their nutrients and this will not help the immune system.
  • Avoid sugar: Sugar weakens the immune system, causes premature aging and inflammation and it increases the symptoms.
  • Avoid alcohol: Alcohol creates a toxic environment in the body creating inflammation.
  • Avoid microwaved foods: Stop using microwave, irradiated food is not healthy.
  • Avoid unhealthy foods: Eat whole, unprocessed foods, organic foods, fruits and vegetables. Their uncompromised nutrients will help to correct the cause of this illness and bring your body to its normal state of balance. Their high anti-oxidant level will also help fight oxidative damage by free radicals.

References;

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