Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the nervous system. And a person with it may look fine, even healthy, without noticeable signs of the disease. For this reason, MS can be puzzling. Melissa Bloch, MD, neurologist, explains the symptoms, causes and treatments of MS. Similarly, Stephanie Jones, DO, discusses how physical therapies can help with this condition.
What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
“Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune condition where a person’s immune system attacks tissues in the brain and the spinal cord which causes neurological damage. The disease can have a variable course over time,” explains Dr Bloch.
MS has a range of symptoms including:
- Vision problems
- Numbness and tingling
- Bladder frequency and urgency
- Motor problems such as weakness or muscle spasticity (stiffening)
- Heat intolerance
- Vertigo and hearing issues
- Walking, balance or coordination changes
- Depression or anxiety
- Mood shifts
A recent study even found that changes in the eye, specifically the retina, can indicate the severity of MS in patients.
“MS is diagnosed with a complete history and physical exam often followed by MRI scans of the brain and spinal cord,” states Dr. Bloch. “Sometimes a lumbar puncture and/or laboratory testing is necessary to confirm it.”
“Specifically, it is important to diagnosis MS early to slow down disease progression with treatments that preserve brain and spinal cord tissue. Early treatment helps people function globally better over the course of their life,” she adds.
“There are multiple treatments called disease modifying treatments to slow it down,” says Dr. Bloch. “Some are injections, oral pills or IV infusions. The health care provider and patient will choose the best treatments over the course of the disease process.”
“There are also pain and bladder medications and muscle relaxers for MS symptoms that help some patients,” observes Dr. Bloch.
Other helpful supportive therapies can include:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
“While there are specific treatments to manage the disease itself, as mentioned above, many patients have secondary medical issues as a result of the effects of MS on the nervous system,” explains Dr. Jones.
These additional issues may include the following:
- Weakening muscles
- Changes in mobility and range of motion
- Balance issues
- Bladder and bowel issues
- An increase in involuntary muscle tone
- Difficulty swallowing
- Constant nerve pain
“Each of these issues can be independently evaluated and treated with either conservative measures, medications, or minimally invasive procedures such as injections. Every patient has varying severity of these secondary medical issues and, therefore, treatment has to be personalized for them,” clarifies Dr. Jones.
Benefits of Physical Rehabilitation
The in-depth rehabilitation team at Renown Health includes physical, occupational, and speech therapists, as well as neuropsychologists. They can help patients with MS overcome, or adapt to, their change in function,” explains Dr. Jones.
“Generally, physical therapists help with strengthening, while occupational therapists assist patients with daily living activities, such as bathing or eating. Speech therapists aid with swallowing and cognition, and neuropsychologists offer support as patients adapt to the changes they are experiencing as a result of their disease.”
Living with MS
In particular, a patient with MS needs to be under the care of a neurologist. “Exercise, healthy diet, not smoking and a positive mental attitude all help a person with MS,” notes Dr. Bloch. “It is also important to get help if needed for social and emotional support with MS.”
Furthermore, Dr. Bloch recommends The National Multiple Sclerosis Society website as a great patient resource.
“Those with an MS diagnosis need to know that they are not alone. In particular, there are support groups available for those who wish to join. Additionally, patients should never hesitate to reach out to their medical providers and/or therapists should they have any questions or concerns regarding their disease. Their medical team is there to support them as well,” adds Dr. Jones.