Multiple Sclerosis is commonly abbreviated as MS. It is a condition that affects the nerves of the body and eventually affects the brain and spinal cord. The coating of the nerves deteriorates with MS, and as a consequence impulses no longer travel along the nerves as efficiently as before developing the condition. The nerves become damaged as a result, and this is called sclerosing, or scarring. The ‘multiple’ means that more than one nerve is affected by the scarring.
The exact cause of MS is unknown, but the condition is called one of the ‘auto immune’ diseases where the body appears to fight itself. MS is more common in people exposed to some risks, such as smoking, and it appears to be more common in those people who have relatives who have had the condition. Other risk factors, such as stress, diet and solvents, have not been definitely proven to be the cause of MS, but it is always helpful to avoid these if at all possible.
Symptoms of MS are often vague, so often the condition may be present for some time before definitely being diagnosed. However, at least half of those with MS complain of visual disturbances, memory loss or difficulty concentrating, limb weakness and tingling or muscle spasms causing some difficulty coordinating movement.
Absolute diagnosis generally follows an MRI (magnetic resonance image) scan, and examination of the fluid in the brain and spinal cord, so is not undertaken lightly. These diagnostic tests are either expensive or rather unpleasant, and are only undertaken when there is likely to be clear benefit from testing.
The major benefit of a diagnosis of MS is ruling out other more sinister conditions. An acute attack or worsening of multiple sclerosis attack is generally treated with oral steroid therapy. This hopefully prevents further damage to the nerves, and helps the sufferer to recover more quickly. Other treatments are used that will modify or prevent the disease worsening, lessen the intensity of an acute attack, or try to speed the recovery from an attack. The most commonly medicine used as a disease modifier is Interferon, which often causes influenza-type symptoms, so is not always suitable for everyone.
Most people with MS have a decreased quality of life as a result of the condition, or because of the side effects of treatment, but may live with the disease for many decades.
If you or someone close to you is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis then talk to your community pharmacist. They can give you advice about best use of medicines to treat multiple sclerosis. They can also advise and supply you with aids to help manage activities of daily living, to allow independence and an active life for as long as possible.