Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative chronic disease which affects around one in 500 people in the UK (1). World Multiple Sclerosis day is on Monday 30th of May 2022 and aims to shed light on the disease.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease, affecting the body’s central nervous system. It causes the body to attack the myelin sheath, which is the protective insulation around the nerves. This process is called demyelination. Demyelination affects the way in which the nerve impulses travel through the central nervous system between the brain and spinal cord, creating symptoms of MS. (2)
It is not known exactly what causes the body to attack the myelin but some researchers believe it may be down to a combination of both genetic factors and environmental factors:
- Genetic Factors:
Whilst MS is not believed to be hereditary and genetically passed on, the risk of getting MS is higher in those who have relatives with the disease, especially between parents and their children.
- Environmental Factors:
MS is found to be more prevalent in people who live further away from the equator. The reason for this is not clear however it is thought to be due to the decreased sun exposure which means decreased Vitamin D intake which is believed to increase prevalence of conditions such as MS. (3)
What are the symptoms of MS?
The symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary with each individual. They may get progressively worse as time goes on or there may be periods where the symptoms are bad and then they may slowly improve or disappear. The periods where the symptoms are worse are known as relapses.
Some of the symptoms include:
This is one of the most common symptoms. Patients experience extreme exhaustion, which interferes with the completion of daily activities. Fatigue gets progressively worse through the day and in hot weather.
- Numbness/ Tingling Sensations
This is a common symptom which can happen early in the development of MS and spreads throughout the body
- Muscle spasms, stiffness and weakness
Muscles can feel weak, become stiff and resist movement and spasm, which is when the muscle contracts tightly.
- Depression and anxiety
It is common for people with MS to suffer with mental health and experience periods of depression. It is unclear if the cause is due to MS or a secondary effect of the stress of the condition, or potentially a combination of both. Anxiety is also common due to the unpredictability of living with MS.
- Mobility issues
This may come as a result of the numb and tingling sensations and muscle spasms and stiffness. Patients may experience poor coordination, clumsiness, a tremor or dizziness.
- Vision problems
This is common in 1 in 4 people with MS. They may experience colour blindness, flashing lights in their eyes, double vision, eye pain and loss in vision which may last for days or even weeks. (4)
Treatment/ Management of MS:
There is no cure for MS, however there are treatment options available which can help to manage the symptoms of MS and make it a more manageable disease to live with. Treatment options include (5):
- Drug treatments:
This would be medication to ease and manage pain and spasms related to MS. Medication can be provided to help manage fatigue, pain, incontinence and walking problems.
This can help with muscle stiffness and mobility. Hydrotherapy may also be used for reducing stiffness. Other therapy that may be used includes cognitive behavioural therapy (for pain and mental health), speech and language therapy and occupational therapy to help aid or adjust to the condition.
Consuming a balanced and healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight is said to be beneficial for everyone, but for people with MS maintaining a healthy weight may help with fatigue and pain symptoms by avoiding excess weight and pressure on the joints
This may help physical and mental symptoms of MS. Gentle exercise like Yoga and Pilates are recommended to help with relaxation, strength and flexibility. Swimming and dancing are examples of more cardiovascular exercises which can contribute to maintaining a healthy weight and mental stability.
Vitamin D is essential for bone and immune system health. Vitamin D can be obtained from the sun and from some food sources such as oily fish, red meat and egg yolk. Studies have shown higher vitamin D intake and body stores are associated with a lower risk of developing MS. Low vitamin D levels have also been linked to a higher chance of having a relapse, developing new lesions and increased levels of disability. When in a period of relapse this may also cause lower levels of vitamin D due to potentially being less active, thus spending less time outdoors. Additionally, whilst sun exposure and being outdoors can increase vitamin d intake, it may also help to lift mood helping with the mental symptoms of MS (6,7).
1) MS Society. n.d. “MS in the UK | Multiple Sclerosis Society UK.” MS Society. Accessed May 23, 2022. https://www.mssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/our-work/our-evidence/ms-in-the-uk.
2) Overcoming MS. n.d. “What is Multiple Sclerosis? | Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis.” Overcoming MS. Accessed May 23, 2022. https://overcomingms.org/about-multiple-sclerosis/what-is-ms.
3) MS International Federation. n.d. Accessed May 24, 2022. https://www.msif.org/about-ms/causes/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwhLKUBhDiARIsAMaTLnEHmpg7oBw_DqmlVJbXlpQ1gAoHyWJ9zTOzEFczU53855U89nZYVe8aAlVdEALw_wcB.
4) NHS. n.d. “Multiple sclerosis - Symptoms.” NHS. Accessed May 23, 2022. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms/.
5) Daly, Ian. n.d. “How is MS treated?” MS Trust. Accessed May 24, 2022. https://mstrust.org.uk/about-ms/ms-treatments/how-ms-treated.
6) BOWLING, ALLEN. n.d. “Vitamins, Minerals & Herbs in MS.” MS Society. Accessed May 24, 2022. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/NationalMSSociety/media/MSNationalFiles/Brochures/Brochure-Vitamins,-Minerals,-and-Herbs-in-MS_-An-Introduction.pdf.
7) Daly, Ian. n.d. “Vitamin D.” MS Trust. Accessed May 24, 2022. https://mstrust.org.uk/life-ms/diet/vitamin-d.