Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a complex, chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. If you or someone you love has recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the first step you can take in effectively managing your condition is to learn everything you can about your diagnosis. Ask your provider if he or she has any informational pamphlets about MS, check out organizations like the National MS Society, or read below for a primer on what exactly MS is and how it’s diagnosed.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord, which together comprise the central nervous system. Nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord are covered in a protective sheath known as myelin; in those with MS, the immune system attacks this protective sheath. This causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Over time, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves.
The cause of MS is unknown. Because the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues, it is considered an autoimmune disease. While it’s unclear why MS develops in some people and not others, a combination of genetics and environmental factors appear to be responsible.
The signs and symptoms associated with MS vary greatly from person to person, as well as over the course of the disease. This is because damage to the nerve fibers can appear in different locations in different patients.
Symptom often affect movement, such as:
There are no tests that diagnose MS specifically. Instead, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis often relies on ruling out other conditions that might produce similar signs and symptoms, known as a differential diagnosis. If you have symptoms similar to those described above, your provider is likely to start with a thorough medical history and examination.
Your provider may then recommend one or all of the following tests:
Evoked potential tests: Evoked potential tests record the electrical signals produced by your nervous system in response to stimuli. In these tests, you watch a moving visual pattern, or short electrical impulses are applied to nerves in your legs or arms. Electrodes measure how quickly the information travels down your nerve pathways.