Multiple sclerosis means “many scars”
Multiple sclerosis is a condition that affects the nerves. Each nerve in your body has a thin sleeve of fat, called myelin, covering it. Like the plastic coating on an electrical cable, the myelin sleeve helps protect your nerves so that impulses from your brain can travel all over your body.
With multiple sclerosis, this sleeve breaks down in many different places throughout the body. Scar tissue, called sclerosis, forms in its place. This scar tissue can interrupt the messages that your brain sends to your nerves.
Multiple sclerosis affects everyone differently
For some people, only a few nerves are affected and symptoms are mild. For others, it can be a severe illness.
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis often start as:
- Eye pain, blurry vision or vision changes
- Changes in your ability to see the colors red and green
- Trouble walking
- Numbness or tingling
Over time, you may notice other changes like:
- Loss of coordination
- Weakness in your hands, arms or legs
- Stiffness or spasms in your muscles
- Loss of coordination
- Hearing loss
- Tremors or shaking
- Bowel or bladder incontinence
- Changes in sexual functioning
Many people with multiple sclerosis can also experience mental changes like:
- Trouble concentrating
- Memory loss
- Changes in attention span
- Changes in judgment
The symptoms and their severity are different for everyone who has multiple sclerosis. Having multiple sclerosis doesn’t mean you’ll have all of these symptoms.
Diagnosing multiple sclerosis
Other health problems can also cause many of the same symptoms as multiple sclerosis, so talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your health. Your doctor may want to do some testing to rule out other conditions. These tests might include:
- Imaging tests, like an MRI
- Blood tests
- Evoked potentials, which are tests that check how quickly your brain sends and responds to signals
- Lumbar puncture, which is a test to check the fluid in your spine for signs of multiple sclerosis
Your doctor will also ask you questions about your symptoms and do a physical exam.
Treatments for multiple sclerosis
While there’s not yet a cure for multiple sclerosis, there are many treatments to relieve symptoms and help you stay active and independent. These may include medicines, rehabilitation and assistive devices like a cane or walker.
There are also clinical trials that test new medicines and treatments for multiple sclerosis. If you’re interested in joining a clinical trial, talk to your doctor.