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Questions about Multiple Sclerosis

What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

MS is a chronic disease that affects the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord. The cause of MS is unknown, but it is likely due to an interaction between genetic factors, environmental triggers, and the immune system. In individuals with MS, the body’s own immune system attacks the myelin that surrounds nerve fibers, which disrupts signals from the brain to the body.

What are the symptoms of MS?

MS is a highly variable and unpredictable illness. The progression, severity, and specific symptoms differ among individuals. People with MS may experience blurred vision, double vision, dizziness, numbness, tingling, impaired balance, incoordination, pain, or weakness.

Most people with MS initially experience episodes of neurologic dysfunction (known as relapses) interspersed with periods of remission. Symptoms usually develop over a few days and often improve with time. However, relapses may result in permanent neurologic problems. Some people with MS experience symptoms that gradually worsen over time.

How is MS diagnosed?

There is no one test to determine if someone has MS. We usually start with a detailed interview, thorough neurologic examination, extensive blood work, and MRIs. Additional tests may be necessary. Numerous illnesses can mimic MS and should be excluded before MS is diagnosed.

How is MS treated?

The treatment of MS involves infusions of corticosteroids to hasten recovery from relapses, medications that reduce the frequency of relapses and lessen the likelihood of MS worsening, and medications and other interventions (e.g. rehabilitation, exercise, and diet) to alleviate some of the disease’s daily symptoms.

No single treatment regimen is right for everyone. Realistic treatment goals include minimizing relapses and the development of disability, maximizing function, and maintaining or improving quality of life. Recent advances in therapeutics and promising treatments on the horizon point to a brighter future for MS patients.

Dr. Tullman is a board-certified neurologist on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. He earned his medical degree from the University of Missouri School of Medicine and completed a neurology residency and multiple sclerosis fellowship at Mount Sinai Medical Center. He is a member of BJC Medical Group.

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