About 400,000 people currently live with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the United States, with 10,000 new cases diagnosed every year. That is the equivalent of 200 new cases per week. Learn more about this disease, including the types, symptoms, and treatments for multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease where areas of the central nervous system (the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord) become inflamed, which damages the protective coating on the nerves. Over time, the nerve cells within the CNS may also be damaged. This damage disrupts electrical signals, or nerve impulses, so that messages from the brain and spinal cord to other parts of the body are disrupted and potentially delayed.
These delays in nerve impulses can cause a variety of symptoms. These symptoms are often unpredictable and may flare-up and then subside over a few days, months, or even years. People living with MS may experience the following:
- Pain in the back or eyes
- Tremors in the hands or limbs
- Bladder dysfunction and bowel problems
- Fatigue, dizziness, poor balance, or weakness
- Mobility issues, stiffness, and muscle weakness
- Numbness or uncomfortable tingling
- Speech difficulties
- Partial or complete vision loss
- Swallowing disorders
- Anxiety or mood swings
Typically, patients experience Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS), which is the first neurologic event suggestive of MS. Depending on how the disease affects the body over time, there are 4 types of multiple sclerosis.
- Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS). This is the most common form of multiple sclerosis and affects about 85% of people living with MS. People with RRMS have temporary periods called relapses, flare-ups, or exacerbations, when new symptoms appear.
- Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS). Most people who are diagnosed with RRMS will transition to SPMS. In SPMS, symptoms worsen more steadily over time, with or without the occurrence of relapses and remissions.
- Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS). This type is not very common, affecting about 10% of people with MS. It is characterized by slowly worsening symptoms from the beginning, with no relapses or remissions.
- Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS). This is a rare form that affects 5% of people with MS. It is characterized by a steadily worsening disease state from the beginning, with acute relapses but no remissions, with or without recovery.
There are treatment options available to decrease the frequency of relapses and delay the progression of the disease; some are administered orally or intravenously, while other options may be via injection. Beta interferons and glatiramer acetate are injectable medications that may be administered to patients who have experienced the first clinical episode and have MRI findings consistent with MS. Fingolimod, teriflunomide, and dimethyl fumarate are oral capsules used to treat relapsing forms of MS. For patients with worsening RRMS, PRMS, or SPMS, mitoxantrone is administered intravenously to reduce neurologic disability and the frequency of clinical exacerbations. Natalizumab is reserved for patients with rapidly progressing MS and is administered once every four weeks.
Most people living with MS have a relatively normal lifespan. On average, they may live seven years less than the general population, but they often die from many of the same conditions as people without MS, such as heart disease and cancer.
In the last ten years, five new drugs have been developed to treat symptoms of MS. These findings are changing the way clinician’s approach the patient and the disease, and we are hopeful of more advances in MS treatments.
For most, the main concern is learning to cope with symptoms that may cause pain or discomfort. A private nurse can provide an extra level of skilled care to promote quality of life for the patient and their family. Medication management, intravenous therapies, and palliative care are a few of the ways a private nurse can increase the overall comfort of the client.
If you or someone you know is living with multiple sclerosis, call (650) 462-1001 to speak with a Care Coordinator about the benefits of receiving private care from a skilled nurse.
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