Multiple sclerosis: symptoms, types, contributory factors and treatments

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common disease of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to affect young adults. It affects about 100,000 people in the UK.

This page explains what MS is, the symptoms and different types of MS, how you get MS (contributory factors), and tells you about the treatments we offer.

Symptoms and signs of MS

Multiple sclerosis can cause many different symptoms. Often, when they first start to happen, they come and go, and are quite mild. They often are not serious enough to need medical attention. Sometimes it is only after people have been diagnosed with MS that they realise they were having early symptoms before.

The most common symptoms of MS are as follows. (Note: this list is for information only, not for self-diagnosis.)

Diagram of the human body with common symptoms of MS indicated by the part of the body which each affects

Main symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

  • General
    • Constant tiredness/fatigue
    • Memory loss and other brain-related problems (e.g. attention span, reaction time, spatial awareness abilities)
    • Depression/unstable mood
  • Visual disturbances
    • Eye twitches (nystagmus)
    • Inflammation of the optic nerve (optic neuritis)
    • Double vision (diplopia)
  • Speech & Throat
    • Difficulty with speech/articulation (dysarthria)
    • Swallowing weakness (dysphagia)
  • Body
    • Muscle weakness
    • Muscle spasms or spasticity
    • Lack of coordination (ataxia)
  • Sensation
    • Pain
    • Sensory changes or loss (hypoesthesia)
    • Tickling, tingling, burning, pricking, or numbness of skin (paraesthesia)
  • Bowel & Urinary
    • Incontinence
    • Diarrhea or constipation
    • Increased frequency of going to the toilet

Types of MS

Several types of MS, or “patterns of progression”, have been recorded to help predict the future course of MS and also to help make treatment decisions.

Charts showing the increase in disability over time for the four different sub-types of MS

Progression types of multiple sclerosis

Relapsing remitting

Relapsing remitting MS means you have unpredictable attacks (relapses) followed by months or years of  ‘remission’ (no sign of any symptoms). This describes the initial course for 80% of individuals with MS.

Secondary progressive

Around 65% of people who first have relapsing-remitting MS will then start to have progressive decline between attacks, without any distinct periods of remission. This is called secondary progressive MS.

Primary progressive

Primary progressive MS is where people never have remission after their initial MS symptoms. This happens in about approximately 10–15% of cases of MS.

Progressive relapsing

People who have a steady decline but also suffer distinct attacks have progressive relapsing MS. This is the least common of all the types of MS.


How do you get MS? — contributory factors

Research into the causes and contributory factors of MS is on-going. There is evidence that the following factors have some influence.

Genetic

  • It is generally accepted that the risk of developing MS increases by 20–40-times if a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) has the disease.

Geographic

  • The further away from the equator you live, the greater the risk. This is likely due to decreased vitamin D levels, related to sunlight exposure.

Birth month

  • In the northern hemisphere, the risk of developing MS peaks for those born in May, according to widely-cited research published in the BMJ.
  • This has again been linked to decreased levels of vitamin D during pregnancy over the winter months.

Viral

  • The Epstein-Barr virus, which can cause glandular fever and occurs in 80-90% of the general population, is currently strongly implicated in MS.

Gender

Smoking


Treatment of MS

Harrow MS Therapy Centre offers a number of professional treatments for multiple sclerosis.

  • Physiotherapy and exercises classes
    • Physio plays a vital role in the management of MS. Our Centre has a team of physiotherapists experienced in neuro-disability. Exercising regularly will keep your body working to its full potential; our weekly exercise class at the Centre is designed for people with MS.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen tank therapy
    • By breathing pure oxygen at more than atmospheric pressure a high concentration can be absorbed thus promoting healing.
  • Chiropody, yoga, reflexology and massage
    • These therapies, including remedial/sports, aromatherapy and hot stones massage, are all available at regularly-scheduled sessions at our Centre.

If you would like talk to one of our staff on the telephone, or come to the Centre to find out more, please contact us.

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