If you have MS, it can sometimes be an uncertain and scary diagnosis, but with the right treatment, it can help manage your symptoms. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about MS.
What is MS?
MS is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue. In this case, these are healthy nerves and myelin, which form the protective layer that covers the nerve fibers of the spinal cord and brain. Myelin helps the brain and spinal cord (part of the central nervous system (CNS)) communicate with the rest of the body.
See: How MS affects the central nervous system >>
When the immune system attacks these electrical pathways, can cause scarring, called sclerosis, in the CNS. Your symptoms will depend on where the scarring occurs in the CNS. Over time, MS can cause permanent nerve damage.
There are several forms of MS, with relapsing-remitting MS being the most common. Of all the people who have MS, 8 out of 10 of them will have relapsing-remitting MS. Relapsing-remitting MS means that the symptoms can Come and go. A MS attack, or flare, means that you are actively having symptoms. Remission is a period when your body feels like it did before the outbreak, but that doesn’t mean your symptoms go away completely.
Is MS genetic?
There it is not a specific gene which causes MS and is passed from parent to child, but you can inherit the chance of getting MS.
Research shows that multiple genes may play a role in the development of MS. In fact, variation in a gene known as HLA-DRB1 is the biggest genetic risk factor for contracting MS. This genetic variation could play some role in how the immune system attacks the myelin sheath and nerves.
What are the signs and symptoms of MS?
MS can cause a variety of symptoms and the symptoms each person has may be different from another.
Early symptoms of MS may include:
- Blurred vision, seeing double, or eye pain with movement.
- Muscle weakness in hands and legs.
- Rigid muscles with spasms.
- Numbness, tingling, or pain in the arms, legs, face, or torso.
- difficulty with balance
- urinary problems
Some symptoms of MS may develop later and include:
- Feeling fatigued, both physically and mentally (this can occur with the first symptoms when an MS attack is looming)
- Humor changes
- Trouble concentrating, learning difficulties, or memory problems
Is race a risk factor for MS?
But recently, scientists have seen a increased MS in black people. In fact, there are probably more black people, particularly black women, who suffer from MS than we previously thought. MS might also affect blacks differently than whites, but scientists don’t have an answer why. Environmental and social factors, such as health disparities, could be one reason, as well as the fact that blacks are not included in clinical studies as often as whites.
Why is it so difficult to get an MS diagnosis?
There is no specific test to diagnose MS. Instead, healthcare providers (HCPs) use a variety of different tests to reach a diagnosis. Testing for MS could include:
- Blood test
- A lumbar puncture, which takes a sample of spinal cord fluid to look for antibodies related to MS.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to find areas of MS, known as lesions, in the brain or spinal cord.
- Evoked potential tests record the electrical signals your nervous system sends when it responds to stimuli.
It can be difficult to get a diagnosis, especially if you have unusual symptoms or if your MS has progressed. Your symptoms may be vague or could be similar to other health conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus.
Who could be part of your MS care team?
You don’t have to face MS alone. When you have MS, your care team may consist of many different healthcare professionals, including as:
- Your primary care provider
- A neurologist or a doctor who specializes in the nervous system.
- A mental health provider to help manage the mental and emotional side effects of MS
- Physical or occupational therapists to help with exercises and managing daily activities.
- Nurses to help coordinate your care.
- Other specialists who help treat MS symptoms, such as ophthalmologists or urologists who help manage urinary symptoms.
Read: Beyond the physical. How MS affects your life >>
How is MS treated?
There are several different treatments for MS. Some treatments for MS work to slow the progression of the disease, which is also called “modifying the course of the disease.” Others work to stop attacks (also called flares or relapses).
Treatments to slow the progression of MS can come in several different forms, including:
- Injectable treatments
- Oral treatments
- plasma exchange
- A highly purified form of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
You may also use medications to control specific symptoms, such as bladder problems, fatigue, or pain.
What happens if MS is not treated?
There is no cure for MS. But if you not receive treatment, you may not recover as quickly from attacks and your symptoms may be difficult to control. Not treating MS can also accelerate damage to your nervous system.
Without treatment, people with relapsing-remitting MS can develop Secondary progressive MS, according to a 2019 study. secondary progressive MS It is the stage after relapsing-remitting MS. Here, symptoms worsen and you tend not to fully recover into remission once the flare-up ends.
If you live with MS, it is important to advocate for yourself to manage your symptoms. Stay in close contact with your doctor to let him or her know how you are feeling and how your treatments are working. Be sure to ask questions so you feel fully informed about your diagnosis.
This educational resource was created with the support of Novartis.
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