Multiple Sclerosis Overview for Caregivers
Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic disease that destroys the myelin, or insulating material, for the conduction of nerve impulses in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. Multiple areas can be damaged, causing scars, or scleroses in the myelin. The impulses from the brain are "short-circuited" and can't get to the part of the body they need to, causing disabling symptoms.
Severity and symptoms vary among affected individuals, and from time to time, within one particular person affected by MS.
Symptoms depend on which area of the central nervous system is affected. Some of the symptoms may include:
Blurred vision, double vision, sudden loss of vision, fatigue, numbness, tingling, pain, bladder and/or bowel dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, stiffness, dizziness, weakness, difficulty with balance and coordination, cognitive problems, moodiness, and heat intolerance.
There are several different types of MS. Relapsing-Remitting, is the most common type. The person has an "attack" and later regains some function. Secondary Progressive often occurs after a person with Relapsing-Remitting MS either grows progressively worse between "attacks" or stops having "attacks." Primary Progressive MS begins with a progressive disease without specific "attacks." Progressive -- Relapsing disease begins with progression, with "attacks" on occasion.
The cause is not yet known, but climate, age, hereditary tendency, immunology, and viruses are being investigated as playing a part in the disease.
There are approximately 400,000 persons currently diagnosed with MS in the United States of America.
There is no one definitive test or measure to diagnose MS. A diagnosis is usually made by a neurologist based on a person's medical history, neurological exam, and laboratory tests. The lab tests may include a lumbar puncture, evoked potentials, and brain and/or spinal MRIs.
MS is most frequently diagnosed among young adults between the ages of 20-50, and is more common among Caucasians and women.
Although there is no cure yet, several drugs are used to treat MS to lessen the frequency of the "attacks" and the ensuing disability. Other drugs are being studied or are in clinical trial. There are numerous other drugs and therapies used to treat symptoms. Your health care provider may recommend therapy to help relieve symptoms. Treatment may include: physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech/language therapy, psychotherapy, support groups, drug therapy, steroid therapy, and immunologic treatments.
A diagnosis of MS not only affects the individual, but also impacts the family. MS impacts the family because it arrives unexpectedly like an uninvited guest who never leaves. It can be pervasive because MS is chronic, unpredictable in course and symptoms, expensive to treat, a strain on emotions, a drain on energy, is very time consuming, and can mean a loss or reduction in income if the person affected by MS contributes to the household income. If a family member must reduce work hours or quit work in order to care for someone with MS that, too, will greatly affect the family's standard of living.
Everyone in the family may have a different way of coping with the MS diagnosis of a family member. Often those ways of coping clash with one another.
Educating the family about MS and its impact and assisting them to adjust to financial, social, and emotional changes can help each one feel less threatened by the unpredictability of this disease. It is important to seek support for understanding the effects of MS and discover effective coping mechanisms for dealing with this life-changing situation. There are many organizations that can help by providing information and support. Knowledge is power!