Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis, often called MS, is a chronic inflammatory disorder that involves the central nervous system. The condition damages the fatty insulation, called myelin, that protects nerves. As the disease progresses, the nerve cell damage makes it difficult for the brain and body to communicate, which can cause a variety of symptoms.
While a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis might feel overwhelming, UTHealth Houston Neurosciences has recognized experts who will guide you through every step of creating and maintaining a comprehensive care plan to help manage symptoms and slow the disorder’s progression. Many MS patients live increasingly full lives with our dedicated care.
What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences
At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, a multidisciplinary team of neurologists, rehabilitation specialists and neuro-ophthalmologists treat patients in all stages of MS. Doctors use state-of-the art MRI facilities to monitor and evaluate disease evolution and the effects of treatment. Our mission is to help patients quickly regain and maintain their quality of life by applying comprehensive diagnostic and advanced treatment options. Our experience with clinical care is key to helping patients thrive with this complex condition.
Causes of Multiple Sclerosis
MS is considered an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s own immune system attacks its central nervous system, damaging and disrupting nerve transmissions. Researchers are working to determine what triggers the condition and have identified some factors that seem to put people at greater risk. Much remains unknown about the cause of MS and research is ongoing.
MS is one of the most common central nervous system disorders for young adults, and the condition affects three times as many women as men. Northern Europeans, people with lower vitamin D levels and smokers are considered at a greater risk. People with other autoimmune conditions, such as type 1 diabetes and thyroid disease, are also at higher risk. People who live in colder climates farther from the equator are also at higher risk. Certain bacteria and viruses are being investigated as possible triggers of MS.
Multiple Sclerosis is not considered a hereditary condition, but the risk factors could be genetic. The odds of a typical person developing MS are about 1 in 1,000, but the chances increase to 2.5 to 5 percent if a parent or sibling has MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Early Signs of Multiple Sclerosis
Blurring or pain in one eye, facial paralysis, limb weakness, and ongoing dizziness are early symptoms of MS that should not be ignored. Your medical team will want to know how suddenly the symptoms came on, how long they persisted, and whether they worsened over time. Before being diagnosed, patients tend to have doctor’s visits for broad symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling, bladder problems, and even mood disorders, according to recent research.
Less common symptoms include tremors, seizures, speech problems, swallowing problems, breathing problems, and hearing loss.
Some patients experience long periods of remission with minimal symptoms.
Confirming an MS diagnosis is difficult and time consuming. No single test can determine whether a patient has Multiple Sclerosis. Doctors must use a detailed medical history, neurological exam, and other tests to rule out conditions with similar symptoms before they can confirm an MS diagnosis.
MRIs and cerebrospinal fluid analysis will be used to speed up the diagnostic process. The MRI can detect tissue abnormalities in the brain and spinal cord. Tissue with nerve damage will hold more water, which can be detected by an MRI.
In addition, doctors may test spinal fluid for certain types of proteins, elevated levels of antibodies and high white blood cells. An evoked potential test may be conducted to measure electrical activity in response to stimulation. Doctors will look for impaired transmissions along optic nerves, which tends to happen early in most MS patients.
People are generally diagnosed with MS between the ages of 15 and 60.
Researchers are working diligently to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis. Until then, the focus is on slowing its progression and managing symptoms. Some people have mild symptoms that don’t require treatment, while others with MS may have difficulty performing daily tasks.
A special type of steroids may be prescribed to reduce nerve inflammation during flare ups. Several disease-modifying therapies, including oral, injectable, and infusion treatments, are available for relapsing-remitting MS, the most common form of the disease. The medications help curb the immune system so that it doesn’t attack itself. Your medical team will discuss these options and their risks and benefits with you.
Physical therapy, muscle relaxants and other medications also might be prescribed to help manage symptoms. Stress can trigger and worsen MS symptoms, so patients are often encouraged to incorporate yoga and meditation techniques into their lives. Some patients also find heat to trigger symptoms, and may want to use cooling devices.
Your medical team may also discuss lifestyle changes that might also optimize your body’s response, such as getting plenty of rest, exercising and eating a balanced diet.
MS Research Listings
At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.