Muscular sclerosis is another name for multiple sclerosis. Muscular sclerosis is a debilitating neurological disease that interferes with the signals that the nerves send to the rest of the body. People with muscular sclerosis, or MS, as it is usually called, suffer from a wide range of symptoms that can significantly impair their quality of life.
Symptoms of MS
Muscular sclerosis is caused when the body's immune system attacks the fatty tissue surrounding the spinal cord and nerves, called the myelin sheath, causing it to break down. When the sheath breaks down, it can cause hardened spots, called scleroses. These spots prevent the nerves from sending their messages to the rest of the body. The parts of the body that do not receive these signals cannot function, causing them to fail. This results in uncoordination in the hands, arms and legs, changes in vision or even blindness, bowel and bladder incontinence, and in many cases, severe pain. Symptoms include, but are not limited to numbness and tingling of extremities, burning or crawling sensations, clumsiness, cognitive difficulties, fatigue, depression, nerve and/or muscle pain, spasticity and vision changes. This list is by no means exhaustive and not all MS patients experience all of these symptoms.
There is no one definitive test to diagnose MS. MS can be diagnosed after an MRI that shows one or more lesions (scleroses), after a spinal tap that is positive for an enzyme found to be present in most people with MS, after an abnormal evoked visual potentials test, after two separate and documented flare-ups, or a combination of all of the above. It is possible to have all tests come back negative and still have MS. If there is one predictable thing about MS, it is the unpredictability of the disease.
Causes of MS
No one has been able to determine exactly what triggers the onset of muscular sclerosis, but it is thought to be an autoimmune disease. Usually muscular sclerosis presents itself to people between the ages of 20 and 40, but there are cases of people much younger than that and much older than that when the first symptoms appear. It may lie dormant in the body until an illness or traumatic event triggers it
Varieties of MS
There are currently four recognized varieties of MS. Recurring-remitting MS is diagnosed when the symptoms occur (called a flare or an exacerbation) and then go away. The flare can last hours, days, weeks or even months. Primary progressive MS occurs when the person experiences a slow worsening of the disease over time. Secondary progressive MS starts out as recurring-remitting, and gradually worsens over time; 50 percent of people diagnosed with recurring-remitting MS will go on to develop secondary progressive MS. Progressive-relapsing MS occurs when the person has progressively worsening symptoms but also experiences flares where symptoms become much worse. The difference between this and secondary progressive is that progressive-relapsing MS never goes into remission.
There is a fifth variety that is not recognized by all doctors, called benign MS. Benign MS is suspected where a person experiences one or more symptoms followed by a full and complete remission. There is no disability and no progression of symptoms. Some benign MS sufferers will, after 10 to 15 years, start to show symptoms of progressive MS.
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, but there are treatments that can help some of the symptoms and may even slow the progress of the disease. For recurring-remitting MS and early stages of the of the other types, doctors prescribe medications for nerve pain, muscle relaxers to prevent and treat muscle spasms and low doses of anti-depressants to treat the fatigue and depression that comes with MS. Oral or intravenous course of corticosteroids are used to reduce inflammation and damage from exacerbations. For more severe cases, doctors prescribe MS-specific, disease-modifying drugs like Rebif, Tysabri and Copaxone. Other medications may be used to address specific individual symptoms.
The life expectancy for people with muscular sclerosis is almost the same as for people without muscular sclerosis because it is not considered to be a fatal disease. Some of the symptoms of the disease, however, can create life-threatening conditions that can ultimately be fatal. Inability to swallow can result in choking deaths, lack of coordination can cause a fatal fall, a tendency to develop pneumonia, and severe infections and other minor health issues can also become a life-threatening condition that can kill muscular sclerosis patients.
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