What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially debilitating disease that can turn a person’s life upside down, whether they’re young, adult, or elderly. This article presents a comprehensive understanding of what causes multiple sclerosis, its symptoms, types, complications, and preventive measures. It’s particularly insightful if you’re a person with multiple sclerosis or caring for someone with the condition.
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic illness of the central nervous system affecting more than 2.8 million people worldwide (National MS Society, 2023). It disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body, primarily due to the deterioration of the protective covering of nerve cells, known as myelin.
- The prevalence of MS increased by more than 10% from 2010 to 2020 (National MS Society, 2023).
- Women are 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with MS than men (MS International Federation, 2023).
- Approximately 200 new cases are diagnosed each week in the United States alone (MS Discovery Forum, 2023).
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary greatly from person to person and may include:
- Numbness or weakness in limbs
- Partial or complete loss of vision
- Prolonged double vision
- Tingling or pain in parts of the body
- Fatigue and dizziness
- Difficulty in coordination or unsteady gait
- Problems with bowel and bladder function
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
The exact cause of multiple sclerosis remains unknown. However, it’s believed to be an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the myelin, causing inflammation and damage. Risk factors include:
- Age: MS can occur at any age but most commonly affects people between 20 and 50 years old.
- Sex: Women are about twice as likely as men to develop MS.
- Family history: If one of your parents or siblings has had MS, you’re at higher risk.
- Certain infections: Certain viruses, such as Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis, might trigger MS.
- Climate: MS is more common in countries with temperate climates.
- Smoking can increase the risk of developing MS by 50% (MS Society UK, 2023).
- Genetic factors play a role: having a first-degree relative with MS increases the risk by nearly 20 times (Mayo Clinic, 2023).
- Studies suggest that people who move from a high-risk area (far from the equator) to a low-risk area before the age of 15 adopt the risk level of their new home area (MS Society Canada, 2023
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
There are four primary types of MS, each demonstrating a unique pattern of disease progression: Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS), Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS), Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS), and Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS). Each has distinct characteristics, influencing the course of treatment and disease management.
- RRMS is the most common, affecting about 85% of people with MS at onset (National MS Society, 2023).
- About 65% of those initially diagnosed with RRMS transition to SPMS within 15-20 years (Multiple Sclerosis Journal, 2023).
- PPMS is relatively less common, affecting only 10-15% of patients, and presents a more steadily progressing disease course (National MS Society, 2023).
Complications of MS
Multiple sclerosis in the elderly, as well as in younger patients, can lead to various complications, including:
- Physical problems: including problems with mobility, balance, speech, and swallowing.
- Mental health issues: depression, anxiety, and mood swings are common.
- Cognitive problems: around half of people with MS will experience memory, attention, and problem-solving issues.
When to See a Doctor
A person with multiple sclerosis, or one who suspects they might have MS, should seek medical attention if they experience unusual symptoms such as unexplained fatigue, difficulty walking, or sudden onset of numbness or weakness in the limbs.
How Can You Prevent a Multiple Sclerosis Flare-Up?
While there’s no guaranteed method to prevent an MS flare-up, certain strategies might help, such as:
- Staying healthy: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can boost overall health and potentially reduce MS symptoms.
- Avoiding triggers: Stress, smoking, and infections can potentially trigger MS symptoms. Learning to manage these could help prevent flare-ups.
- Regular check-ups: Regular visits to the doctor and consistent medication can help keep symptoms in check.
- Regular exercise can reduce fatigue in MS patients by up to 40% (MS Society UK, 2023).
- About 60% of MS patients who quit smoking experience slower progression of disability (Cleveland Clinic, 2023).
- Vitamin D supplementation may decrease the rate of relapses in MS by up to 15% (Neurology Journal, 2023).
- Remember, these strategies are not a guarantee but a means to enhance overall health and potentially reduce MS symptoms and relapses. Regular consultation with healthcare professionals is crucial for optimal disease management.
Living with or caring for someone with multiple sclerosis can be challenging. However, with an understanding of the disease, its causes, and symptoms, coupled with effective management strategies, the quality of life can be significantly improved for those with MS. Always consult a healthcare professional for any concerns related to MS, its symptoms, and management.
- National MS Society. (2023). Who Gets MS? (Epidemiology). Retrieved from https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Who-Gets-MS
- MS International Federation. (2023). Atlas of MS. Retrieved from https://www.msif.org/about-us/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/advocacy/atlas/
- MS Discovery Forum. (2023). MS Prevalence and Incidence. Retrieved from https://www.msdiscovery.org/research-resources/epidemiology
- MS Society UK. (2023). Risk of MS. Retrieved from https://www.mssociety.org.uk/about-ms/what-is-ms/risk-of-getting-ms
- Mayo Clinic. (2023). Multiple sclerosis. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350269
- MS Society Canada. (2023). Risk Factors of MS. Retrieved from https://mssociety.ca/about-ms/risk-factors
- Multiple Sclerosis Journal. (2023). Disease course and progression in MS. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/home/msj
- Cleveland Clinic. (2023). Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Guide. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17261-multiple-sclerosis-ms
- Neurology Journal. (2023). Vitamin D supplementation and clinical outcomes in MS. Retrieved from https://n.neurology.org/