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What is Multiple Sclerosis? Multiple Sclerosis Awareness - MS Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment
Multiple sclerosis (commonly referred to as MS) is a debilitating condition that can affect the brain and/or spinal cord. MS causes a number of potential symptoms, such as problems with limb movements (arm or leg movement) and loss of sensation or balance. MS is a lifelong condition that can result in mild or severe disability. In most cases, the treatment options available are focused on managing the symptoms.
On average, life expectancy for many people with MS is reduced. In the UK, there are more than 100,000 people who are diagnosed with MS. Although MS can be diagnosed at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in people who are in their 20s and 30s. In addition, MS is three to four times more commonly diagnosed in women than men.
It is also important to note that symptoms will differ depending on the type of MS. In some cases, the symptoms come and go in phases or progressively get worse over time.
In most cases, people showing early signs of MS are seen by their GPs. This is because it might not be initially clear what is causing the symptoms and the GP will have to exclude other potential causes. Once they have carried out a number of tests, they may refer the patient to a neurologist (a doctor who specialises on conditions that affect the nervous system). The neurologists will do further tests, including a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to help with the diagnosis of MS.
In general, MS starts with one of two known ways, i.e., individual relapses (attacks or exacerbation) or with gradual progression.
The majority of people with MS (8 out of 10 people) are diagnosed with relapse remitting type of MS. This means that they have episodes of new or worsening symptoms, known as "relapses". The symptoms characteristically get worse over a number of days and may last several weeks of even months before they start improving over a similar time period.
In most cases, these relapses occur without any warning, although in some cases they may be associated with a period of stress or illness. In some cases, the symptoms of relapse may disappear completely without any treatment. However, in some cases, the symptoms persist and the person may continue to experience repeated attacks over several years. The period where there are no relapse attacks is referred to as a period of “remission”. In some cases, the remission period can last several years.
In most cases, people who go for many years or even decades experiencing relapse remitting MS may develop secondary progressive MS. The symptoms of secondary progressive MS slowly get worse over time with no obvious attacks. However, in some cases, some people may experience sporadic relapses during this period. Nearly half of people with relapsing MS go on to develop secondary progressive MS within 15 to 20 years. In addition, the risk continues to increase, the longer they have this condition.
In the UK, 1 in 10 people diagnosed with MS experience gradually worsen symptoms from the outset. This is called primary progressive MS. In this case, their symptoms steadily continue worsen over a number of years. Unlike relapse remitting MS, they do not have periods of remission. However, in some cases, they may have periods whereby their condition appears to have stabilised.
MS is classified as an autoimmune condition. This means that the immune system wrongly attacks healthy parts of the body, especially parts of the brain, spinal cord or nervous system. In most cases, the thin layer that surrounds and protects the nerves (called the myelin sheath) is attacked and scarred. This results in the underlying nerves being damaged, and thus interrupting or slowing down the transportation of messages to different parts of the body. Many experts believe that genetic and environmental factors cause the immune system to act this way, although there is no clear evidence to date.
There is currently no cure for MS. However, there are a number of treatments can help control the condition. These treatments depend on the specific difficulties or symptoms the person is experiencing. Typically, the treatments will be used for the following:
In most cases, disease modifying therapies are used to reduce or slow down the symptoms of worsening disability for those with relapsing MS. They may also be used for people with secondary progressive MS who continue to experience relapses.
There is currently no treatment to slow down primary progressive and secondary progressive MS in the absence of relapses. In these cases, the focus is primarily on minimising the effects of symptoms and supporting the person to ensure that they maintain a good quality of life.
Many people with MS have to make many adaptations to their daily life and activities. With the right support and care, people with MS can lead active and fulfilling lives depending on the extent of disability and symptoms. The health and social care multi-disciplinary teams will also be able to put in place specific care packages to manage symptoms and considerably improve the quality of life of people with the condition.
It is also important for care staff to be adequately trained to improve their understanding of the condition, manging the symptoms and identify and report accordingly when the condition is getting worse. This helps to minimise complications, especially those caused by severe MS, such as chest or bladder infections, or swallowing difficulties.
It is important to note that with increasing research and our understanding of the condition, the quality of life and life expectancy of people with MS has significantly improved. There are also a number of local and national organisations that provide information and support, including national charities such as MS Society and MS Trust.
The Mandatory Training Group is the leading provider of classroom and online multiple sclerosis training courses. You can book MS training at your workplace or other suitable venue within the UK. Alternatively, our MS courses can be completed online anytime, anywhere and at your own pace. Contact our Support Team on 024 76100090 or via Email stating your MS training requirements.