Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a degenerative illness that affects nearly one million people in India every year. Its symptoms differ widely, as they can be mild in some patients and severe for others — significantly affecting their functionality. Knowing how to diagnose MS symptoms early on can be critical in slowing the progression of the disease by starting Multiple Sclerosis treatment at an early stage. Here’s a handy guide to everything you need to know about Multiple Sclerosis definition, causes, and symptoms, as well as what is the treatment for Multiple Sclerosis.

What is Multiple Sclerosis

MS is a chronic inflammatory condition of the central nervous system. It is an autoimmune demyelinating disease, which means the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues — in this case, the myelin or protective covering around nerve fibers. This leaves scarred tissues or lesions in multiple areas, disrupting electrical impulses throughout the body. When the myelin sheath is damaged, nerve impulses slow or even stop, causing neurological problems. 

Multiple Sclerosis treatment includes a combination of Stem Cell Therapy, Physiotherapy, Speech and Language Therapy, and Occupational Therapy.

What causes Multiple Sclerosis?

There are no defined Multiple Sclerosis causes, although risk factors for the condition include certain infections like the mononucleosis-causing Epstein-Barr Virus, genetic susceptibilities, and vitamin deficiencies. Smoking has been observed as another factor among Multiple Sclerosis causes, with smokers seeing more brain shrinkage and lesions than non-smokers. 

People who have other autoimmune conditions, like pernicious anemia, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, or type 1 diabetes, are also at greater risk for Multiple Sclerosis. Most people who are diagnosed with the disease observe the first signs of Multiple Sclerosis when they are in their 20s and 30s, so it is crucial to be extra vigilant about the initial symptoms for people belonging to this age bracket.

Early signs of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis tends to be an unpredictable disease, with signs and symptoms varying widely from person to person. Many patients will experience periods of symptoms followed by months or even years of remission, only for the disease to return. Knowing how to diagnose MS symptoms at the early stages can make a big difference in prognosis. Here are some signs to watch out for.

  • Numbness and tingling: The impact that Multiple Sclerosis has on the central nervous system means that signals to different parts of the body can get disrupted. Sometimes the signals are cut off entirely, which leads to numbness in places like the face, trunk, legs, or arms. Conflicting signals could also manifest in a tingling sensation in the arms, fingers, and legs.
  • Muscle spasms: This is one of the classic early Multiple Sclerosis symptoms and occurs due to damaged nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. You may experience chronic pain or involuntary spasms/jerky movements in the muscles, or both. Spasticity and pain are most common in the lower body, though back pain is also prevalent among Multiple Sclerosis patients. In some rare cases, patients may even experience paralysis in the legs.
  • Lhermitte’s sign: Very often, patients with Multiple Sclerosis experience an electric shock-type sensation in the neck when making certain movements such as craning the neck upwards or tilting it to the side. This is known as Lhermitte’s sign and happens due to lesions in the spine.
  • Dysesthesia: This is an unpleasant, relatively rare symptom that involves sudden burning, scalding, numbing or prickly sensations in different parts of the body, such as the soles of the feet.
  • Bladder and bowel problems: Up to 80% of patients experience bladder trouble as part of their Multiple Sclerosis symptoms. They may have an increased urge to urinate or difficulty in holding in their urine. Bowel trouble like diarrhea and constipation, or lack of bowel control may also manifest.
  • Fatigue: Unexplained fatigue and bodily weakness are also classic signs of Multiple Sclerosis, affecting about 80% of patients. Fatigue happens as the nerves in the spinal cord deteriorate, and you may experience sudden episodes of it that last for weeks and make even simple daily tasks seem much harder. Weakness manifests most commonly in the legs.
  • Dizziness and vertigo: Many patients with Multiple Sclerosis demonstrate dizziness and vertigo, particularly when they stand up. This could lead to problems with gait as coordination and balance are affected.
  • Banding: This symptom, also known as the MS hug, feels like a squeezing band of pain anywhere between the neck and the waist. It occurs when nerve damage triggers spasms in your muscles, leading to tightness and pain in those areas. Banding tends to pass on its own.
  • Speech and swallowing problems: While relatively uncommon, patients with Multiple Sclerosis may find it harder to talk or eat as the nerves in the neck and throat do not work as they should. Some patients may also feel like something is stuck in their throat when there is actually nothing.
  • Face flashes: One of the rare early symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis involves face flashes, which show up as a stabbing, burning, or shock-like sensation in the cheek or jaw.
  • Itches that aren’t real: Another rare symptom, Multiple Sclerosis patients may experience a sudden urge to itch that has nothing to do with the skin but is related to nerve damage.
  • Sexual dysfunction: As Multiple Sclerosis continues to attack the central nervous system, patients may experience reduced sexual desire and an inability to perform sexually.
  • Hearing problems: In some cases, patients with Multiple Sclerosis can become hard of hearing owing to the buildup of scar tissue near the auditory nerve.
  • Vision trouble: This is one of the commonest Multiple Sclerosis symptoms. Inflammation brought on by the disease damages the optic nerve, which disrupts central vision and leads to blurred or double vision or even loss of vision in some cases. Patients may also be aware of pain when they look up or to one side. Involuntary eye movements are another symptom.
  • Uhthoff’s phenomenon: While blurred vision is common among Multiple Sclerosis patients, this particular phenomenon shows up as a brief visual blurriness when body temperature goes up, such as after a hot bath or in warm weather.
  • Pulfrich phenomenon: It is an optical illusion that triggers a conflict in the patient’s vision, leading them to miss a ball when they are trying to catch it or to not see an approaching car that is swerving in front of them.
  • Cognitive changes: Multiple Sclerosis symptoms affect cognitive function as well. Planning, concentrating, staying organized, making decisions, and remembering things all become much harder. Patients will also find it harder to process visual information, such as reading a map.
  • Emotional problems: Among the many Multiple Sclerosis complications include emotional distress such as depression, irritability, or anxiety. Many patients also experience the pseudobulbar affect, which involves involuntary and uncontrollable bouts of crying or laughter and occurs due to damage in the parts of the brain that control emotions. The stress of having to cope with a chronic illness day in and day out also exacerbates depression and anxiety.

How do doctors test for Multiple Sclerosis?

At present, there is no specific Multiple Sclerosis test, and much of the diagnosis process involves eliminating other illnesses that might be causing the symptoms. The doctor will typically conduct a physical and neurological exam and look into the patient’s medical history. An MRI can reveal the presence of lesions in the brain, one of the tell-tale signs of Multiple Sclerosis, while a spinal tap can reveal the extent of the damage to the central nervous system. In addition, to make a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, the doctor will require evidence of at least two separate episodes of the symptoms. A key reason why diagnosis often happens much later is that all symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis at the early stage can be mistaken for isolated problems or symptoms of other illnesses.

What is the treatment for Multiple Sclerosis?

As of today, there are no concrete solutions for Multiple Sclerosis prevention, although several medications and treatments can slow its progression and give patients a better quality of life. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy can reduce the impact of Multiple Sclerosis complications and give patients more control over their lifestyles. Specific medications and exercises can help alleviate the fatigue, pain, and muscle spasms that patients experience.

In conclusion, living with or caring for someone with Multiple Sclerosis is hard, not only because of the unpredictability of the disease but because of the many Multiple Sclerosis complications that can impede daily life. Keeping an eye out for these critical signs and symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis can help to secure an early diagnosis and commence the best Multiple Sclerosis treatment in India.