With so many existing conditions and shared symptoms, it’s difficult to pinpoint why we’re experiencing chronic pain. Sometimes we hold off seeing a doctor for unusual symptoms until they escalate. Don’t wait for the pain to become debilitating; reach out early for clarity on what’s causing it and intervention.
In this blog, we’ll look at the following questions concerning multiple sclerosis:
- What is multiple sclerosis?
- What causes multiple sclerosis?
- Who is at high risk for multiple sclerosis?
- What happens when you have multiple sclerosis?
- Symptoms of multiple sclerosis
- What are usually the first signs of multiple sclerosis?
- What age does multiple sclerosis start?
- What is life expectancy with multiple sclerosis?
- How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?
- How is multiple sclerosis treated?
- Can multiple sclerosis ever go away on its own?
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system (brain, spinal cords, and optic nerves). With MS, the immune system attacks itself, destroying the protective covering of nerves. This leads to painful and debilitating symptoms that vary depending on the severity of the disease.
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
The cause of MS is unknown, but some factors can contribute to it.
While MS cannot be prevented entirely, you can reduce your risk by avoiding the following:
- High BMI
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Lack of exercise
- High-stress levels
- Poor diet
Even with a healthy lifestyle, other risks of MS may be unavoidable, including:
- Existing autoimmune diseases
- Demographic traits
We’ll look at these risk factors and why they can contribute to MS more in depth below.
Who is at High Risk for Multiple Sclerosis?
You cannot directly inherit MS, but research has shown that an individual related to someone with the disease is at higher risk of developing it themselves. The chance of a sibling or child of someone with MS also developing it is estimated to be around 2 to 3 in 100.
Existing Autoimmune Diseases
MS itself is considered to be a chronic, autoimmune disease. When existing issues are causing the immune system to harm tissue, other similar disorders can cluster, including MS.
Living in an area with low levels of sun exposure can lead to a deficiency in vitamin D, a risk factor for developing MS (specifically in childhood). In another way, a lack of vitamin D before birth can also contribute to an increased risk for MS. Other environmental factors of MS include:
- Cow’s milk. Studies have shown that a high intake of cow’s milk can contribute to developing MS. This is attributed to the proteins found in cow’s milk causing inflammation of the myelin (a layer around the nerves). Damage to the myelin sheath can lead to MS, among other autoimmune diseases.
- Exposure to smoke, including second-hand smoke. There’s extensive research on the role of smoking in the causation of MS. It can make a person more susceptible to the disease and worsen existing SC symptoms. One study found that long-term smokers were at a 50% higher risk of MS development than those who had never smoked or smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.
- Diet high in saturated fats. Unhealthy eating habits lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients. Over time, this increases BMI, cholesterol levels, and other health problems contributing to MS development.
- High-stress levels. Stress does serious wear and tear on the body. Without management and outlets, stress can lead to all kinds of health problems.
High stress decreases the body’s ability to fight diseases. While research isn’t concise on whether stress can be the sole cause of MS, it’s proven to aggravate existing symptoms of MS.
Specific demographics are found to be more prone to MS. We’ll break these down below based on statistics provided and medically reviewed by Healthline and Hopkins Medicine.
- The highest cases of MS were found in the Northern States.
- The United States is the 2nd leading country in MS diagnoses (2nd to Germany).
- Most diagnoses are received between 20 and 40 years of age.
- MS is three times more common in women than men.
- First-degree relatives of someone with MS have a 2.5-5% risk of developing MS.
- If one identical twin has MS, there’s a 25% chance of the other twin developing it.
What Happens When You Have Multiple Sclerosis?
MS causes the body to attack and damage the nerve cells in the central nervous system. Nerve damage leads to a disconnect in communication between the brain and body. This, in turn, negatively affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms Include:
- Cognitive problems (problem-solving, learning, planning)
- Mobility problems, inability to walk
- Poor balance
- Vision problems, including loss of vision in one or both eyes and double vision
- Lack of coordination
- Chronic fatigue
- Muscle spasms, stiffness, and weakness
- Numbness and tingling
- Bladder and bowel problems
- Sexual dysfunction
- Slurred speech
- Mood swings
- Sudden electric shock in the back of neck, spine, arm, or leg (Lhermitte’s sign)
What are Usually the First Signs of Multiple Sclerosis?
The early symptoms of MS differ from person to person. What one individual experiences during the onset of MS can be completely different from another.
Typically, early MS manifests as numbness and tingling in the face, body, arms, or legs. Following this, MS can cause vision problems, muscle spasms, chronic pain, fatigue, bladder problems, sexual dysfunction, and problems with problem-solving and processing information.
What Age Does Multiple Sclerosis Start?
Statistics slightly vary, but overall, MS is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. That said, MS can develop at any age; the 20s, 30s, and 40s are the most common ages for the onset of symptoms.
What is Life Expectancy with Multiple Sclerosis?
Due to the complications of MS, people with a diagnosis tend to have a life expectancy of 5 to 10 years lower than average. On a positive note, this age gap continues to decrease as medical technology advances.
Another study found that people with MS live, on average, 7.5 years less (75.9 years old) compared to those without MS (83.4 years old).
How is Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed?
No specific tests are offered for diagnosing MS. Rather, medical professionals will look at the existing symptoms of a patient and rule out other possible conditions. A doctor will look at medical history, perform a neurologic exam, MRI scans of the brain or spinal cord, evoked potential tests, and other order lab tests to determine if MS is present. Through this process of elimination, MS can be ruled as the cause of the group of existing symptoms.
How is Multiple Sclerosis Treated?
There’s no cure for MS, but specific therapies and medications can manage the progression and symptoms of MS. Medications can include anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive drugs, steroids, and chemotherapy.
Therapies, support groups, and counseling can help with the mental and emotional impacts of MS. Similarly, acupuncture and physical therapy may benefit people living with MS.
Can Multiple Sclerosis Ever Go Away on Its Own?
Although MS is a chronic condition with no cure, it’s rarely fatal. Various treatments are available to manage the pain and other symptoms of MS.
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