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Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis: Know What Symptoms to Look For

Recognizing Signs of MS is Key to Getting Correct Treatment

The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can easily be confused with a variety of other medical conditions, making it a challenging disease to diagnose. That’s why it’s important to understand what the symptoms are and to tell your doctor if you have any of them, says Christopher Langston, MD, Medical Director of The Madlyn Borelli Multiple Sclerosis Center at Montefiore Nyack Hospital. “People may have a lot of different symptoms, and don’t connect the dots,” he said. “Telling your doctor all of your symptoms will make it more likely they will suspect MS and refer you to a specialist who can help.”

What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is thought to be an autoimmune disease, meaning the body, through its immune system, attacks its own tissues. In people with MS, the immune system attacks myelin coating around the nerve fibers in the central nervous system. This interferes with the transmission of nerve signals between the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the body.

Symptoms of MS can include:

  • Double or blurry vision
  • Weakness
  • Clumsiness
  • Numbness
  • Strong, sudden fatigue
  • Burning or tingling
  • Urinary problems: sudden urge to urinate, urinary incontinence, or difficulty in starting to urinate
  • Difficulty walking

People with MS may have symptoms that get worse in the heat, such as blurry vision or trouble walking.

Who Can Get MS?
MS is a lifelong disease. It most often occurs in women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Men can also develop the disease, but women are three times as likely to be affected. “It can also develop late in life,” Dr. Langston noted.

The cause of MS isn’t known, but there seems to be some genetic influence. “It’s more common in northern climates, including New York,” Dr. Langston said. People with a family history of autoimmune diseases may also be at increased risk.

After pregnancy, women with MS may develop three symptoms together: the sudden urge to urinate, trouble walking, and fatigue. “Women may assume these symptoms are all associated with being a new mother, so they don’t mention them to the doctor, but they can be a sign of MS,” Dr. Langston said.

Visiting an MS Specialist
If the doctor suspects MS, you’ll be referred to a specialist. During the first visit, the doctor will ask you about all of your symptoms, including when they started and whether they got better over time. The doctor will do a physical exam, to determine whether the problem originates in the brain and spinal cord, or in nerves in other parts of the body or muscles and bones. The doctor may order an MRI, lumbar puncture to examine fluid in the spinal cord, or blood work.

Treatment
The ability to treat MS has improved dramatically in recent years. “In the last 15 years there has been an explosion of treatments,” Dr. Langston said. “Today, there are many people who have MS and you would never know it. Our goal is to put people into full remission so they can lead a normal, active life.”

For more information about the services provided at The Madlyn Borelli Multiple Sclerosis Center at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, call 845-348-8880 or visit montefiorenyack.org/multiple-sclerosis.