Understanding the signs and symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is important for care givers. MS is a chronic disease that presents many challenges to those diagnosed with it and their caregivers. This is a neurological disorder that results in an immune system attack on the central nervous system. The symptoms range from numbness in the hands and feet to paralysis, and numerous symptoms in between. This video offers a good explanation for how the disorder affects the body.
Though there is disagreement amongst scientists about the actual target of the immune attack, it is clear that the substance protecting the nerve cell, myelin, as well as the nerve fibers themselves are damaged in the attack. These damaged myelin cells produce scar tissue, or sclerosis, which disrupts the signals from the spinal cord to the brain. This creates a variety of symptoms and issues for the individual.
It is not easy to predict the course of the disease, and people experience the effects differently, thereby anticipating the ups and downs and planning treatment strategies is very difficult. There are four courses in the disease process. Each one has a mild, moderate, and severe level.
- Primary-Progressive: Slowly worsening neurologic function with no remission or relapse and a varied rate of progression.
- Secondary-Progressive: After a period of remission/relapse, the disease worsens steadily and may include flare-ups.
- Relapsing-Remitting: Intermittent periods of disease flare-ups alternating with symptom abatement.
- Progressive-Relapsing: Disease progresses without remission, with steady worsening symptoms and flare-ups.
The list of common symptoms provided by the National MS Society include:
- Problems with walking, gait, and coordination
- Bladder and bowel dysfunction
- Problems with vision, dizziness, and vertigo
- Sexual dysfunction
- Cognitive impairment
- Emotional changes and depression
There is no cure as yet for MS, but there are medications on the market offering hope for disease progression and symptom management. When flare-ups occur, inflammation in the nervous system exacerbates symptoms which can be effectively treated through medication. In addition to medication which may reduce the disease progression and/or minimize the symptoms, approaches such as rehabilitation can be very helpful.
Rehabilitation for patients with MS often centers around the activities of daily living and physical functioning. Various forms of rehab, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and cognitive therapy, may be available depending on the symptoms. Alternative and complementary services may also prove to very beneficial for people with MS. These include stress management, yoga, meditation, diet, herbal remedies, or supplements.
If you are caring for someone with Multiple Sclerosis, the most important thing to be aware of is that the individual is following their treatment regime. People with MS may need a lot of help with various tasks, and may need it sometimes but not at other times. Having patience is critical, since many people dealing with MS have emotional and cognitive problems in addition to the physical challenges, which can be very demanding on the caregivers.