Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system. It is a chronic condition that can be disabling.
There are several types of MS:
Relapsing-remitting MS —Symptoms suddenly reappear periodically. They last for a few weeks or months, then go back into remission (a period with no symptoms). Symptoms may get worse with each occurrence.
Primary progressive MS —Symptoms gradually worsen after symptoms first appear. Relapses and remissions usually do not occur.
Secondary progressive MS —After years of relapses and remissions, symptoms suddenly begin to progressively worsen.
Progressive relapsing MS —Symptoms gradually worsen after symptoms first appear. One or more relapses may also occur.
The immune system normally attacks viruses or bacteria that should not be in the body. With MS, a problem with the immune system causes it to attack healthy nerves. In particular, MS attacks the nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord, and the nerves of the eye. The exact cause of these immune problems is unknown.
The following may contribute to the development of MS:
There is no cure for MS, you can manage the disease with medication, lifestyle changes, and counseling. Treatment will help relieve symptoms, prevent relapses, delay disability, and slow disease progression. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Medications can help slow progress, prevent new lesions, and manage symptoms.
Types of medications that can slow the progression of MS or prevent new lesions from developing include:
Corticosteroids may be given to reduce inflammation during active phases. This may lessen the effects of the immune system on the nerve fibers and shorten the length of relapses.
Types of medications to help manage symptoms can include:
Muscle relaxants—to reduce muscle spasms
Potassium channel blockers—to help improve vision, motor skills, and relieve fatigue
Medications to help with bladder or bowel problems
Other therapies may help relieve some physical and emotional symptoms of MS. Each therapy has unique benefits and potential side effects which may interfere with other therapies you are using. Work with your health care team to help find therapies that work best for you. Supportive therapies include:
Regular moderate exercise with your doctor's permission—swimming may be especially beneficial
Physical therapy to help maintain muscle strength and tone, dexterity, and walking ability
Occupational therapy to help with assisted devices and daily living activities
Speech and/or swallowing therapy
Cognitive therapy to address specific neuropsychiatric problems
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