Multiple Sclerosis is an auto-immune condition (when the immune system malfunctions and attacks its own cells) that targets the central nervous system and affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord. MS symptoms can appear as problems with muscle movement, balance and vision.
Each nerve fibre in the brain and spinal cord is surrounded by a layer of protein called myelin. With MS, the myelin becomes damaged. The disease can come in differing grades of severity but generally worsens with time. It is usually characterized by a pattern of remissions and relapses so that symptoms come and go.
Multiple Sclerosis symptoms
These can be varied but the more common MS symptoms include loss of vision (normally in one eye), muscle stiffness that can spark uncontrolled muscle movements, difficulties with balance and co-ordination and fatigue. Other multiple sclerosis symptoms might include numbness and tingling, bladder problems, constipation, skin sensitivity, muscle pain, shaking of the limbs and a range of issues connected to thinking, learning and planning.
Depression affects around half of all sufferers at some point. But it’s not clear if this is because of damage to the brain caused by the disease or whether it is due to the stress of having to cope with the range of multiple sclerosis symptoms over the long term. Anxiety and sharp mood swings can also accompany this disease.
What causes MS?
It is not fully understood what causes the immune system to attack myelin but experts believe that it is a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. So, although the disease is not directly inherited, you are more likely to develop it if a close relative has MS. Research also shows that white people or those living furthest from the equator are more likely to suffer from this auto-immune condition than those living in hotter climates. One theory related to climate and geography suggests that a lack of Vitamin D from less sunlight could be a contributory factor in acquiring the condition. Other theories around MS causes include viral infection as the culprit. It’s thought that such an infection of the nervous system and/or immune system may trigger the MS symptoms. However, as yet there is no firm evidence to support this idea.
While there is no cure for this disease, many MS treatments are available to help relieve the symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of any relapses. Treatments and therapies can also help to slow the condition’s progress.
If you have benign MS or very mild symptoms, you may not need treatment unless you experience a relapse. In this case, steroids can help. And although fatigue is a prominent feature of MS, exercise is highly recommended to boost overall health and improve areas such as muscle strength, weight control and flexibility.
The type of exercise must be appropriate to the person and how they are affected by multiple sclerosis. There is no evidence that exercise either worsens MS in the long term or that it causes relapses.
As with all MS treatments and therapies, the overriding goal is quality of life by managing a range of challenging and potentially debilitating symptoms.
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