Multiple Sclerosis: Is it MS or a form of arthritis?
Every nanosecond of life, a network of 100 billion neurons transmits electro-chemical impulses within the brain and to the body. You breathe, swallow, work and play.
In multiple sclerosis, (MS), a chronic disease of the central nervous system, this communication breaks down because the myelin sheath that protects the neurons, or brain cells, become damaged. Electro-chemical impulses to the body are slowed, causing MS symptoms that range from infrequent and manageable, to life-altering in the extreme.
What are common first symptoms?
MS usually occurs in adults between the ages of 20 and 40, with women developing it at least twice as often as men. Initial symptoms may include a visual impairment such as blurred vision or temporary blindness, tingling or numbness in the arms and legs or face, body pain or leg spasms, vertigo, dizziness, weakness, and fatigue.
How to get an accurate diagnosis?
Since MS can mimic symptoms of arthritis-related diseases such as lupus and sarcoidosis, getting an accurate diagnosis can be difficult. And, in the most common form of MS—relapsing-remitting MS—symptoms appear then disappear for periods of time, adding to the diagnosis dilemma.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society outlines the criteria for an MS diagnosis:
- Find evidence of damage in at least two separate areas of the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves AND
- Find evidence that the damage occurred at different points in time AND
- Rule out all other possible diagnoses*
To arrive at a diagnosis, your physician will take a medical and family history and perform a comprehensive neurological exam that includes imaging studies and eye tests. Blood tests will help rule out diseases such as lupus which have symptoms similar to MS.
How is MS treated?
Treating MS is a lifelong proposition. Choosing a strong interdisciplinary team of physicians helps someone stay ahead of symptoms and disease progression. Depending on the form of MS, there are many highly specific medications to modify the course of the disease and manage symptoms. Physical therapy and emotional therapy are also part of living a full life with this complex and often, baffling disease. Read more about MS at www.nationalmssociety.org