If you or someone close to you has recently been given a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, you probably have a lot of questions and concerns. Or, you may be feeling so overwhelmed by the diagnosis that you aren’t sure what kinds of questions to ask. The National MS Society has developed programs to give you the information and support you need to live comfortably and confidently with this change in your life.
The National MS Society, Oklahoma, offers an annual Moving Forward: A Program for the Newly Diagnosed in-person program, contact the IRC at 1-800-344-4867 to find out when the next program is being held.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS vary among individuals and are unpredictable. Today, new treatments and advances in research are giving new hope to people who are affected by the disease.
MS is not a fatal disease. Individuals with MS have near-normal life expectancies. Most people with MS learn to cope with the disease and are able to live productive lives.
What are its symptoms?
The symptoms of MS may include tingling, numbness, painfull sensations, slurred speech, and blurred or double vision. Some people experience muscle weakness, poor balance, poor coordination, muscle tightness or spasticity, tremors, or paralysis which may be temporary or permanent. Problems with bladder, bowel, or sexual function are common. Fatigue is a major concern for many. MS can cause forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating. It can also cause mood swings and may make people more susceptible to depression. Symptoms may come and go, appear in any combination, and be mild, moderate, or severe.
MS is an unpredictable disease. Symptoms vary greatly from person to person and vary over time in the same person. Many people go through periods of exacerbation. These are acute attacks, also called relapses, when new symptoms appear or existing symptoms become more severe. Exacerbations are usually followed by remissions, which may bring you back to your pre-relapse level or may leave you with some remaining disability. This form of MS is called relapsing-remitting MS.
Some people have few or no severe attacks but instead experience slow but steady worsening of symptoms and disability over time. This is called primary-progressive MS. Or, this steady pattern can follow an earlier period of relapsing-remitting MS. This is called secondary-progressive MS.
MS may stabilize at any time, regardless of patter. If your physician has experience caring for other people with MS, he or she may have additional insights about your situation.
Who gets MS?
An estimated 400,000 Americans have MS. Because it isn't contagious, the reporting of cases is not required; so the actual number of people with MS can only be guessed at. Most are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and about two thirds are women.
MS is not always easy to diagnose because symptoms may come and go. In addition, other diseases of the central nervous system have some of the same symptoms. No single neurological or laboratory test can confirm or rule out MS. A definitive diagnosis can take several months; sometimes it can even take years.
MS can be treated! Today, there are six medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat MS. These drugs have been shown to be effective in modifying the natural course of relapsing and secondary progressive MS. The National MS Society recommends that treatment with one of these "disease modifiers" be considered as soon as possible following a confirmed diagnosis of MS with a relapsing course. There are also many medications to relieve or moderate MS symptoms such as spasticity, bowel and urinary distress, pain, fatigue, or depression. Physical therapy, exercise, vocational and cognitive rehabilitation, attention to diet, adequate rest, and counseling are often valuable for maintaining independence and quality of life. Prompt management of symptoms is vital and should be discussed with a knowledgeable physician.
Although MS can be treated it cannot be cured--yet. The cause and the cure of MS are the subject of intensive worldwide research. Over 300 research grants and fellowships are funded by the National MS Society each year. Knowledge about MS is expanding and many clinical trials are in progress.