Neuroscience

On Your Nerves: Understanding MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. Learn more about how people live with this neurological condition and how it’s managed.

Bundle of Nerves

In the central nervous system, nerve fibers, known as axons, are protected by myelin. The same way insulating material surrounds electrical wires, myelin surrounds the axons. When someone develops MS, this protective sheath is damaged by inflammation in the central nervous system. This exposes the axon and nerve cells, leading to the symptoms of MS. The size, number, and location of damaged and inflamed areas, called lesions, determine the severity of symptoms patients experience.

Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Symptoms of MS vary greatly between individuals based on what areas are damaged. Some common symptoms include:

  • Balance problems
  • Anxiety
  • Bladder and bowel issues
  • Depression
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Mobility and walking issues
  • Pain
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Swallowing disorders
  • Visual disorders
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Speech difficulties
  • Numbness

Risk Factors

Most people who have MS develop the condition between 20 and 40 years old. While scientists don’t know why people get multiple sclerosis, studies have shown genetic and lifestyle correlations. People who are related to someone with MS have an increased risk of the disease, as are those who smoke. Some patients develop MS after contracting a viral infection that affects their immune systems. Some studies suggest vitamin D, which our bodies create using sunlight, can strengthen the immune system to protect against MS. A lower incidence of MS in equatorial countries compared to those in cooler climates supports this claim.

MS Treatment Options

There is currently no cure for MS, but doctors can prescribe medications to slow the progression of the disease and ease its symptoms. In addition to drugs that help nerve damage, doctors also prescribe steroids to shorten and decrease the severity of MS flare-ups. Other drugs for MS include muscle relaxers, tranquilizers, and botulinum toxin. Physical and occupational therapy can help those with MS manage their balance and fatigue, everyday mobility, and stress levels.

If you believe you could have MS, make an appointment with your primary care physician at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group for a diagnosis. The multidisciplinary care available through CHI St. Luke’s Health ensures our patients have access to a full spectrum of experts dedicated to your health. Our neurologists are experts in a variety of neurological conditions and can recommend the best course of treatment.

Sources
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis: Overview & Facts
The Multiple Sclerosis Process and Symptoms

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