Newly Diagnosed: Taking the First Step on Your Journey
Becoming educated is a good place to start on your journey with multiple sclerosis (MS). Whether you are a patient or a caregiver, knowing as much as possible about the disease will help you be a more active participant in your or your loved one’s healthcare. Learn more below about MS, its causes, symptoms, and how it’s diagnosed.
MS is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the myelin sheath, or the protective protein coat around nerve fibers. This results in inflammation, which further damages the myelin sheath as well as the nerve cells themselves, and the cells that produce myelin.
Types of MS
MS is classified into four main types based on the phase and severity of disease progression. The four types are: clinically isolated syndrome; relapsing-remitting MS; secondary progressive MS, and primary progressive MS.
The exact cause of MS is not known, although researchers believe multiple factors contribute to the development of the disease. MS is considered an autoimmune disease, but it is not known what causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the myelin sheath, and myelin-producing cells called oligodendrocytes to disrupt the transmission of nerve impulses.
The immune system attack on myelin causes a disruption in electric signals traveling along the nerve fibers from the brain to the body and back. As a result, patients with MS can experience a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, numbness and tingling, muscle spasms, walking difficulties, pain, and bowel or bladder problems. Many people with MS also experience emotional changes, including depression, anxiety, and mood swings.
There is no single test to diagnosis MS, but a thorough physical and neurologic examination that includes imaging and other tests, combined with a careful study of a patient’s medical history, are a first step to diagnosing the disease and, importantly, ruling out other possible causes of symptoms being reported.
Living With MS
Not every MS patient is affected by the condition in the same way. For some, symptoms can worsen with time, and living with MS can affect many aspects of daily life, including health, wellness, relationships, and careers. A diagnosis of MS means that people may have to adapt to a new lifestyle.