The name Sir Augustus Frederick d’Este is probably not familiar to most people. But to those who have multiple sclerosis (MS), he is known as the first person to be diagnosed with the disease. D’Este, who died in 1848 at the age of 54, was the grandson of King George III of England. He kept a meticulous diary for more than 20 years in which he recorded his progressive weakness, numbness, difficulty walking, painful spasms, and depression – all of which are symptoms of MS.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. It occurs when myelin, the protective insulation around nerve fibers, is attacked by the body’s immune system causing damage in multiple places. Symptoms of the disease are unpredictable and can vary from person to person and change over time. First signs of MS typically appear between the ages of 20 and 40, often starting with vision problems such as blurred sight, red-green color distortion, or blindness in one eye. Patients also experience muscle weakness in the extremities and problems with coordination and balance. Other signs of the disease may include speech impediments, tremors, dizziness, possible hearing loss, and difficulties with concentrating, attention and memory.
The disease is not contagious and anyone can develop MS. However, the disease is two to three times more likely to appear in women and is more common in Caucasians of northern European ancestry. In the United States, approximately 400,000 people are living with the disease and someone is newly diagnosed with MS every hour.
Most people with multiple sclerosis have a normal or near-normal life expectancy. Usually the disease does not cause significant physical disability, but many may need a cane or crutches to help them walk. Others may use a scooter or wheelchair if they tire easily, have balance problems, or need to conserve energy.
People are diagnosed with MS following a physical examination, medical history review, and results of a magnetic resonance imaging scan that shows patches of destroyed myelin in the brain or spinal cord. A sample of spinal fluid may be evaluated for the presence of abnormal amounts of blood cells or proteins associated with MS.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
There are two types of multiple sclerosis. Relapsing remitting MS, which affects 90 percent of cases, is characterized by alternating periods of worsening symptoms followed by periods of improvement. Progressive MS causes a continual worsening of symptoms without any improvement.
Because there is no cure for MS, treatment focuses on slowing the progression of the disease and alleviating associated symptoms. Drug therapies are available to lessen the frequency and severity of MS attacks, reduce the amount of damage in the brain, and slow down the rate of disability. Specific medicines may be prescribed to treat common symptoms of MS, such as bladder problems, erectile dysfunction, depression, pain, muscle stiffness, constipation and urinary problems. Physical and occupational therapy may be recommended to help with walking, balance, and activities of daily living. Speech therapy may help with communication and safe swallowing.
For more information about multiple sclerosis, talk with your doctor or call 855.7.NEURO.9 for a free referral to a neurologist near you.