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Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis

By Metcalf, Eric
Content provided by: Better Medicine from Healthgrades

With multiple sclerosis (MS), the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, becomes damaged. Experts think that as part of the disease, the immune system attacks myelin, the substance that acts like a layer of insulation around nerves. When myelin or the nerves become damaged, the nerves can't properly pass along their signals.

Different types of MS affect people in different ways. One type is called relapsing-remitting MS. With this type, people have flare-ups of the disease, or relapses. Between these flare-ups, people have periods of recovery, or remissions.

About 85 percent of people diagnosed with MS start off with the relapsing-remitting type. In most cases, the course of the disease changes after a few decades and is then likely to become steadily worse.

MS most often develops in people in their 20s and 30s. Women are twice as likely to have MS as men.

Symptoms

These are often the earliest symptoms of MS:

  • Trouble seeing

  • Sensitivity to heat

  • Numbness, especially in the feet

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty thinking clearly

  • Depression

  • Needing to urinate urgently

  • Trouble with balance

  • Lack of coordination

Relapsing-remitting MS is marked by relapses that last at least 24 hours. During a relapse, symptoms get worse. A relapse will be followed by a remission. During a remission, symptoms partly or completely go away.

Diagnosis

Doctors use many tests to help diagnose MS. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. Part of your doctor's job will be to rule out other diseases that can cause similar symptoms.

Your doctor will also check to see how well your vision, your sense of balance, and other functions are working. You may need an MRI scan that makes images of your brain. This may find areas of damage in your brain that suggest you may have MS.

Another possible test measures what’s called visual evoked potentials. Painless electrodes placed on your scalp measure how your brain responds to things you see.

Your doctor may want to check your blood for other signs of disease. He or she may also order a test called a spinal tap to look at a sample of your spinal fluid.

Treatment

MS is not considered curable, but different types of medicine can treat your symptoms and protect you from the disease. Certain drugs may be prescribed to:

Your doctor may also suggest steroids to reduce symptoms during flare-ups. In addition, doctors can treat relapsing-remitting MS with several drugs that affect the immune system. These may reduce relapses and help prevent new areas of damage.

Prevention

Experts don't know how to prevent MS.

Managing this condition

If you have relapsing-remitting MS, you can take other steps to manage your condition. Physical therapy may help relieve muscle spasms. A diet low in saturated fat and trans fat may help. Eating more foods with healthy omega-3 fatty acids may be especially good because these nutrients are believed to fight inflammation. You may find that talking with a counselor can help with depression. You may also want to avoid situations that cause you to become overheated.

Home remedies

Getting a moderate amount of exercise and enough sleep may help reduce relapses.

Medical Reviewer: Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C; Sohrabi, Farrokh, MD Last Annual Review Date: 2012-06-24 Copyright: 2000-2012 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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Which of these age groups is more likely to experience initial symptoms of multiple sclerosis?