Less Common but Complicated: Multiple Sclerosis

Like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (or MS) is another complicated invisible disability and neurological condition. It often begins after the immune system mistakenly attacks the brain. However, sometimes it can attack the brain and the spinal cord, or perhaps just the spinal cord alone.

When this happens, it can lead people in towards a wide range of potential symptoms. These can be problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.

Coloured Picture of Brains

MS isn’t as common as epilepsy; in the UK, it affects an estimated 100,000 people. However, just like epilepsy, it sometimes results in serious disability, and sometimes it’s a little more manageable.

People can develop it at any age, although it’s more common to do so in your 20s or 30s. It’s also about three times more common in women than men. But like people with epilepsy, everybody who gathers MS has to manage it in their own, unique way.

Causes of MS

MS is an autoimmune condition. It happens when something goes wrong with the immune system and it mistakenly attacks a healthy part of the body. In this case, it’s either the brain or the spinal cord areas of the nervous system.

The immune system attacks the layer that surrounds and project the nerves. The layer is called the myelin sheath, which is therefore damaged and scarred. It potentially the damages and scars the underlying nerves too, leading to slower or disrupted messages being sent across the nerves.

It’s unclear why the immune system makes this mistake, although most experts think a combination of genetic and environmental factors are involved.

Types of MS

Generally, MS starts in one of two ways. These are known as individual relapses (attacks or exacerbations) or gradual progression.

Relapsing Remitting MS

Much more common than its alternative, more than eight out of ten people are told they have the ‘relapsing remitting’ type of MS.

By gathering this type, those affected will have episodes of new or worsening symptoms, known as ‘relapses’. These usually worsen over a few days, and then last for days, weeks or months, before slowly improving over a similar period.

It’s not uncommon for these relapses to occur with no warning whatsoever. Sometimes though, they’re associated with a period of illness or stress.

The symptoms of a relapse may disappear with or without treatment. However, some symptoms often persist and lead to repeated attacks occurring for several years.

The periods that take place between attacks are known as periods of ‘remission’. They can last for years at a time.

After many years (and usually decades) of suffering from the relapsing remitting type, many with the condition will develop secondary progressive MS. This time around, symptoms gradually worsen as time continues with no obvious attacks. Some people continue to have infrequent relapses at this point too.

Approximately half of the people with relapsing remitting MS will develop the secondary progressive type within 15 to 20 years. The risk of it occurring also increases the longer you have the condition.

Primary Progressive MS

Just over one in ten people with MS start off with a gradual worsening of symptoms. The symptoms gradually worsen and accumulate over several years with no period of remission. However, people with this type of the condition do have periods when their condition appears to stabilise.

Symptoms of MS

As mentioned, a wide range of potential symptoms can occur due to MS. It’s got the potential to affect any part of the body.

The most common symptoms of MS include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty walking
  • Vision problems, such as blurred vision
  • Problems controlling the bladder
  • Numbness or tingling in different part of the body
  • Muscle stiffness and spasms
  • Problems with balance and co-ordination
  • Problems with thinking, learning and planning

Walking Man in Crutches

Depending on the type of MS you have, your symptoms may come and go in phases, or get steadily worse over time.

Treatment of MS

Again, like epilepsy, there’s no known cure for MS. However, some treatments can help control the condition.

Symptoms of the condition and difficulties for the sufferer need to be monitored to find the best possible treatment to use. It may include:

  • Treating relapses with short courses of steroid medication to speed up recovery
  • Specific treatments for individual MS symptoms
  • Treatment to reduce the number of relapses with medicines called disease-modifying therapies.

Disease-modifying therapies may be useful when reducing the overall worsening of disability in MS. The treatment can be used among people with relapsing remitting MS, and those with secondary progressive MS who continue to have relapses.

Research continues to take place for people with MS. Unfortunately, no current treatment is available that can slow the progress of primary progressive MS or secondary progressive MS with the absence of relapses.

Recent Links with Epilepsy

As mentioned earlier, many symptoms come along with MS. People with the condition can have seizures acting as a symptom alone. In that way, people with MS are similar to everybody else in the world; they can potentially have a seizure, but don’t necessarily have epilepsy.

However, when searching for any links between epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, I found out a notable fact. It was in an article published on the American health website verywell.com in December 2017:

Your risk of gathering epilepsy is three times higher than the general public.

Whether or not it’s British or American information doesn’t tend to matter. When it comes to health issues, our countries appear to share similar statistics. We also help each other out when new useful breakthroughs regarding health matters are made via research. To confirm this is another post that wasn’t published too long ago on the Epilepsy Research UK website.

In March 2017, news had come through from the University of California. Researchers had uncovered a new link between both conditions that could potentially lead to new treatments against epilepsy as well as MS.

Testing took place on mice, who were fed a compound called cuprizone. Cuprizone is known to damage the myelin-producing cells in the nervous system. After nine-weeks, the mice began having seizures.

When they stopped feeding cuprizone to the mice, the nerve fibres started become myelinated again. However, it isn’t yet known whether this decreases seizures.

After it took place, researcher Dr Seema Tiwari-Woodruff said: “Does remyelination affect seizure activity? Could we accelerate the remyelination with drugs? We are interested in addressing these questions.”

Afterwards, she also said that work was being tested on another mouse model to try and find some therapeutic cures. It seems reducing neuronal hyperactivity could reduce the indulgence of seizures. It could also be beneficial for both epilepsy and MS patients.

Leading Charity Organisations

In the UK, there are two main MS charities available:

MS Society

MS Trust

Both charity websites offer useful advice, publications, blogs, chatrooms and news items about ongoing research. They’ll be useful if you or somebody you know has just been diagnosed with the condition.

National Multiple Sclerosis Society Fundraiser
Fundraising taking place with the National MS Society

In the USA, the main MS charities probably put in just as much effort as the UK’s. These may be:

National MS Society

MS Focus

MS Association of America

If you’re a younger person affected by it, then there’s also an online community website available at shift.ms

Conclusion

If you understand epilepsy, then I’m sure you can recognise the similarities between both neurological conditions.

MS is another complicated condition. Sometimes it results in a serious disability. Sometimes it results in a more manageable one. Although the symptom is rare, it can sometimes lead to seizures occurring, despite not having epilepsy.

A lot of potential symptoms can occur. However, like epilepsy, some of them can be brought forward from medication side-effects.

People often aren’t aware of the issues that MS leads to in life. The charities that support MS are also looking to raise awareness of the condition.

After learning more about the links it has with epilepsy, I hope people who read this (and especially people with epilepsy) feel they’ve gathered a closer connection towards people with multiple sclerosis.

We both have a disability; we should have a strong respect for one another.

MRI Scans by NIH Image Gallery / Save Gazza by The Naked Ape / Multiple Sclerosis Fundraiser by KOMUnews
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