The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

March 20, 2014

Multiple sclerosis: What you need to know

Anywhere from 350,000 to 500,000 United States citizens are currently living with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF). The MSF also estimates that there are about 200 new cases of MS diagnosed each week. While there is no cure for MS, learning more about the disease, as well as how it truly works and impacts people’s lives is very important.

What is multiple sclerosis?

MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and is characterized by plaques where protective casing – known as myelin – has been lost and replaced by a scar. Medical experts have yet to come to 100 percent agreement on the cause of MS, but it’s widely accepted that MS is probably an autoimmune process.

What are the symptoms of MS?

There are a variety of symptoms associated with MS, and every patient is affected differently.

Common symptoms include:

* Numbness, tingling and feeling “pins and needles”

* Sensitivity to heat, which makes symptoms worse

* Fatigue

* Muscle weakness and spasms

* Clumsiness

* Feeling dizzy or “off-balance”

* Constipation

* Frequent urination

* Sexual dysfunction

* Trouble thinking clearly

Less common symptoms may be:

* Vision problems, eye pain or odd eye movements

* Decreased color vision

* Trouble speaking

* Difficulty swallowing

* Tremors

* Hearing loss

Predominant MS symptoms can be of both a physical and mental nature. People with primary progressive MS typically have a slow, continuous downward trend in physical function. Secondary progressive MS, which is the most common form, varies significantly. One in five people with the secondary progressive type notice few MS-related deficits throughout their life.

Cognitive impairment is a troublesome symptom in some people with MS. This can occur with both few or many plaques present. Cognitive impairment is not dependent on the number of brain lesions.

If you have concerns about any symptoms you may be experiencing, consult with your medical provider.

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