A to Z: Explaining 35 of the Most Commonly Used MS Terms

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by Cheryl Woodman |

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Walking into your doctor’s office can feel like walking into another world. Are they speaking English? Do they understand you? Have they correctly diagnosed your symptoms with the relevant medical terminology? What is extremely personal to you, suddenly feels clinical. Terms like ataxia, diplopia and hemiparesis are flying around. You feel frustrated, confused and worried.

This list of most commonly used MS terms will help push you past these emotions, empowering you to take proactive control of your diagnosis.

MORE: Why multiple sclerosis is so difficult to diagnose. 

Ataxia: A phrase used to describe the inability of your brain to voluntarily coordinate and control your muscles. When experiencing ataxia you may sway, stumble and slump.

Autoimmune disease: MS is a type of autoimmune disease. All autoimmune diseases have the same cause, a perception of the body to see itself as a foreigner. When foreign matter is identified your immune system is activated. Therefore in autoimmune conditions your body attacks itself.

Axon: The part of a nerve that sends electrical impulses or “information” to surrounding tissues.

Babinski sign: An abnormal response to the Plantar reflex which is triggered when a blunt object is stroked down the sole of your foot. The normal response is a curling of your foot. The Babinski sign is the opposite, it’s an upward flexing.

Bell’s Palsy: Facial paralysis.

MORE: The benefits of having a pet when you have multiple sclerosis. 

Chronic: MS is often described as chronic. A condition or illness that is experienced for a long time and may also be constantly recurring. The opposite of this phrase is acute.

Contracture: A descriptive for permanent muscle or joint shortening as a consequence of your muscles and tendons remaining too tight for too long.

Diplopia: Double vision.

Dysesthesia: Abnormal sensations which can be created by touch or may appear spontaneously. If you experience dysesthesia you’re likely to feel sensations of burning, itching, wetness, pins and needles or even electric shocks.

Dysarthria: The inability to speak normally or pronounce words properly. Dysarthria occurs when the muscles that produce speech are affected by the progression of your MS.

MORE: Six common symptoms of chronic fatigue. 

Foot drop: A side effect caused by damage to a specific collection of nerves responsible for movement of your forefoot. You’ll often hear this referred to as a gait abnormality which simply means a change to your way of walking.

Hemiparesis: Having weakness throughout one side of your body.

Hemiplegia: The experience of complete paralysis throughout one side of your body.

Interferons: A type of protein naturally made by your body that when released tells neighboring cells to attack a sensed virus or bacteria, triggering your immune system.

Myelin/Myelin Sheath: A protective fatty substance that coats many of your axons, the part of a nerve that sends communications.

MORE: Jamie-Lynn Sigler reveals details about her battle with multiple sclerosis. 

Demyelination: Damage caused to the protective coating of myelin found within your nerves.

Myelitis: An inflammation of the spinal cord causing an interruption of nerve communications to your body. Paralysis and sensory loss are common symptoms of myelitis.

Neuron: A nerve cell whose job is to send and receive information through electrical signals. Your nerve cells work together in an expansive network collectively triggering you to move and to experience sensations.

Nystagmus: Nicknamed as dancing eyes, nystagmus is the involuntary movement of your eyes.

Oligodendrocytes: A type of cell responsible for creating the fatty and protective myelin sheath your body uses to protect specific portions of all nerves.

MORE: Six remarkable things to know about people living with a chronic illness.

Optic neuritis: Optic refers to your eye sight and neuritis describes the inflammation of the nerve. Hearing these two words together describes a symptom of MS often leading to disruptions of your vision.

Plaque/lesion: The medical term used to describe scars appearing in the white matter of your brain and spinal cord. The parts responsible for sending communications. These plaques occur as your body attempts to repair the nerve damage being caused by MS.

Paraparesis: Weakness in your lower body.

Paraplegia: Paralysis of your lower body.

Paresis: A weakening of the muscles in any part of your body.

MORE: Three tips for newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis patients.

Paresthesiae: A feeling that seems to have no cause. Pins and needles is the most commonly experienced, similar sensations that may feel like tingling or prickling are also signs of paresthesiae.

Sclerosis: The Greek word for hard, sclerosis describes the stiffening of your body’s tissue. In multiple sclerosis, the phrase is used to describe the formation of plaques or lesions.

Spasticity: Hear this word quickly and you might hear plasticity. The two words have a lot in common. Spasticity is used to describe the opposite of an object that’s referred to as having plasticity. It’s specifically the stiffening or tightening of your muscles leading to problems with movement and speech.

Trigeminal Neuralgia: A stabbing or burning sensation experienced on the side of your face. It’s a consequence of damage to a specific nerve called the trigeminal nerve which is found in your brain.

T-cell/T-lymphocyte: A specific type of cell that forms a vital part of your immune system. T-cells help to create inflammation and kill neighbouring cells they perceive as foreign. This is important when your body uses it appropriately but when you have MS, your body uses these processes to attack itself.

MORE: Five things to know about the new MS drug, Ocrevus.

Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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