Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease. That means your immune system, which is supposed to protect your from “foreign” invaders (bacteria, viruses, even allergens) instead turns traitor and breaks down your immunity. Those invaders get into your body, and the protective covering that surrounds your nerve cells becomes inflamed, destroying the cells’ ability to work correctly. That’s when you start seeing symptoms of MS.
Central Maine’s neurologists bring on the latest research and techniques to treating your symptoms. When your MS is treated early, you can expect a normal life expectancy, symptom-free — but you must take action.
Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis
MS is one of the most difficult illnesses to diagnose because its symptoms are almost universal. Anyone can get MS, though women are more likely, and while the typical age at the onset is 20 to 40 years old, it can begin at any age.
Diagnosis also is tricky because MS symptoms appear in degrees, from mild (numb limbs, for example) to severe cases with paralysis and blindness. Other symptoms include:
- Blurred or double vision
- Blindness in one eye
- Red/green color distortion
- Muscle weakness in limbs, causing balance and coordination problems
- Prickling, numbing feelings in arms and legs
- Pain in limbs
- Trouble speaking
- Hearing loss
- Difficulty concentrating, and problems with memory and judgement
Some symptoms happen briefly and pass, while others persist. People with MS can be symptom free and then suffer a relapse or flare-up, or the disease can be a steady progression. There’s just no such thing as a “normal” case of MS.
There also is no standard test for MS. Your neurologist and other caregivers will test you based on your current symptoms, and those they think you’re likely to develop. They may give you a neurological exam, blood analysis, brain and spine imaging, lumbar puncture test (known as a “spinal tap”).
They also may prescribe an MRI scan, because 90 percent of people with MS show changes in their brain or spinal cord, and other tests that measure magnetic fields of your cells and the electrical activity in your muscles.
Treating You for a Speedy Recovery
There’s no cure for MS, but there is recovery from flare-ups, and that’s our goal when we treat MS at Central Maine. We aim to manage your symptoms, and your treatment will reflect your experience.
For instance, we might prescribe a corticosteroid medication such as prednisone to reduce the inflammation in your nerves. We often turn to a host of meds that might slow the worsening of the disease, or help block the immune system’s attack on myelin, that protective covering around your nerves.
If your MS is newly diagnosed or especially severe, we might recommend a plasma exchange. This innovative procedure involves removing your plasma, mixing it with a protein solution, then putting it back into your body. Depending on your symptoms, we might also prescribe meds to combat your fatigue, resolve depression or help control your bowel or bladder.
We also prescribe Interferon, a drug that can reduce the severity and frequency of your relapses.
A healthy lifestyle is important, too, in keeping MS symptoms under control. You’ll work with a physical therapist on stretching and strengthening exercises, and you’ll learn to use devices that make daily tasks easier. If you’re feeling stiff or experiencing spasms, we’ll teach you muscle relaxation exercises.
For such a wide range of symptoms, our neurologists will collaborate with as many colleagues as necessary to tame them and get you living a normal, productive life. For most MS patients, there’s no reason not to work full-time and resume all the activities they enjoy.