What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the central nervous system, damaging the myelin — the covering, or insulation, of certain nerves in the body.

Although the cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, the disease tends to strike adults 18 to 40 years of age. It can affect any part of the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and the nerves leading to the eyes. Multiple sclerosis can cause a wide range of disabilities, from mobility problems to cognitive deficits. The disease can exact a heavy emotional toll on those with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones.

Fortunately, multiple sclerosis has become a highly manageable disease over the past two decades. Although there is no cure, new therapies are available that can lessen the effects of multiple sclerosis and dramatically improve patients' quality of life.

Symptoms

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis may be mild or severe and can occur in varying degrees of intensity. Relapses or the exacerbation of symptoms can last for days or weeks and then resolve. Over time, the symptoms of multiple sclerosis can also become chronic and longstanding.

The initial symptom of multiple sclerosis is often blurred or double vision, loss of color vision, or even blindness in one eye. Individuals with multiple sclerosis may experience muscle weakness in their extremities and difficulty with coordination and balance. Some might experience numbness or "pins and needles." Others may have pain or loss of feeling. Heat may cause a temporary worsening of many symptoms.

Multiple sclerosis can cause cognitive impairments such as difficulties with concentration, memory, and judgment. Such impairments are usually mild and rarely disabling. Intellectual and language abilities are generally spared.

Urinary problems Bladder problems or urinary dysfunction are common with multiple sclerosis, although they may not affect everyone with the disease. For those who do experience urinary problems, symptoms vary from person to person and must be dealt with on an individual basis. Symptoms are often manageable, so be sure to tell your doctor as soon as you experience any problems. Mount Sinai’s Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for Multiple Sclerosis works closely with our affiliated urologist to treat urinary symptoms promptly.

Vision problems

About half of all people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis will have some type of vision problem during the course of their disease. Many MS-related eye problems are temporary. Many come and go repeatedly. Blurred or double vision are the most common early symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Report any type of vision loss to your doctor immediately. The Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for Multiple Sclerosis works directly with a neuro-ophthalmologist to treat the vision problems of patients with multiple sclerosis.

Intimacy

Multiple sclerosis can affect sexuality both directly and indirectly. Women may experience pain, numbness or decreased lubrication, while men may suffer erectile dysfunction. Psychological factors may also decrease desire. Physicians, social workers and other health professionals at the Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for Multiple Sclerosis can help with these problems. Although you may be embarrassed to broach the topic, it is important to discuss your symptoms with our staff.

Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Fatigue may be a primary symptom or it may be the result of other symptoms, such as weakness or pain. Some MS-related fatigue is constant, while some pain comes and goes. Fatigue is a highly treatable symptom of multiple sclerosis. Keep a diary of your energy level and bring these notes to your doctor to help assess your treatment options.

Depression

Depression is one of the most treatable symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Whether your depression is a psychological response to the disease or a physiological aspect of it, depression is a manageable condition.

Talk to your doctor about your feelings of sadness, grief or anxiety. Social workers at the Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for Multiple Sclerosis can provide emotional support, while our MS-trained psychiatrist can treat the psychiatric and emotional consequences of multiple sclerosis.


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