Multiple Sclerosis: A Quick Summary of Symptomology

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Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack myelin, which protects nerve fibers in the central nervous system, which causes scarring known as lesions in the brain and spine. As the myelin deteriorates it is akin to having wiring without insulation. Signals get crossed and confused, causing all manner of incorrect information to be transmitted to the rest of the body which manifests in many different ways. It can cause neuralgia (extreme pain in the nerve pathways), paresthesia (feelings of tingling, skin crawling, painful stinging like multiple bug bites, or pins and needles like a limb has fallen asleep), allodynia (pain or discomfort to touch that is non-noxious or not harmful such as clothing rubbing against the skin), muscle spasms, muscle spasticity (hard, painful contractions of the muscles that will not relax or release), as well as other debilitating symptoms such as optic neuritis (swelling of the optic nerves which can be extremely painful, and can cause vision changes such as double vision, cloudy vision, light sensitivity, color changes, and even temporary or permanent blindness), and temporary or permanent loss of motor control or muscle function anywhere in the body. This includes the heart and vascular system, and diaphragm, lungs and respiratory system. In addition, MS flares ups, or “exacerbations” cause inflammation in the brain which, over time, lead to structural brain changes, the most common of which is shrinkage. The brain literally shrinks, and many of the parts of the brain that are responsible for regulating such actions as sleep, appetite and mood no longer function at full capacity, if at all. Many people with MS suffer from mood disorders and sleep disorders that are not easily treated by traditional medications.
The most common symptoms of MS are fatigue (and this is not just how you feel tired after working a 10 hour shift, it’s being so tired even after sleeping 10 hours that you can barely stay awake, barely get out of bed to get food or use the bathroom, and no matter how much you nap throughout the day the fatigue persists), loss of balance and vertigo (which also tends to cause nausea and a lot of stumbling and falling down), and what is known as “brain fog” or “cog fog”, which is a cognitive disruption, an inability to think clearly and is often accompanied by confusion, dissociation, slow reaction times (both physically and mentally) and disorientation. Often the combination of these common symptoms, the fatigue, loss of balance and brain fog, tend to cause one to appear drunk, which is very frustrating for many people with MS. People are also often accused of laziness due to their fatigue, are treated as if they’re mentally challenged, and many physicians will insist that these symptoms, especially changes in mood, fatigue and sleep disturbance, have a psychological root cause, rather than a physical one, and will continue to refer them back to a psych prescriber. These issues are both barriers to treatment, and barriers to understanding by the person’s friends and family.
What must be understood is that every person’s MS manifests differently and at different rates, and there a 4 types of MS, some types generally more debilitating than others.
So if you’ve ever seen or heard of someone with MS who is perhaps very high functioning, then you encounter another person with MS who is less so, please do not compare them, or tell the one person that the other person you know can still work or exercise or go out dancing or etc and that if they only TRIED they’d feel better, because one person may be able to do these things while another cannot.
Educate yourself. MS is sadly a very common, and very debilitating disease, but it’s also very poorly understood. Learn about each new person’s struggles and support them in whatever way help THEM, not by comparing them to others, but by learning what the individual can and cannot do, and assisting them in whatever way might benefit their situation the most, even if all you’re doing is providing a sympathetic ear.
None of us asked for this disease, and if given the choice, we all would trade to get back our old lives in a heartbeat. We’re not lazy, we’re not moping around, we’re not hamming it up, we’re sick. Imagine how you would feel if you had lesions in your brain that caused even one of these symptoms to occur all day every day, and decide what your response to that situation might be before passing judgement on anyone else. All we’re asking is a little understanding and empathy.

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4 thoughts on “Multiple Sclerosis: A Quick Summary of Symptomology

  1. angelagoodnight

    That is an excellent description. Thank you. I have a friend with this disease and what you have said above is very useful and will help me understand her problems better.

    • I’m glad I could help you understand your friend a bit better and I hope she’s doing well. These are just the most common symptoms that people may experience, so some people may experience other symptoms besides these. I tried to include as many as I could think of, but since my memory is like a sieve it’s possible I left something out. :p

      • Yeah, unfortunately we all lose something to this disease. Our hobbies, our livelihood, even friends and family. It’s very unforgiving. We just have to do our best to pick up the pieces and move on to the best of our abilities.

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