An unpredictable disease of the central nervous system, multiple sclerosis (MS) can range from relatively benign to somewhat disabling to devastating, as communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted. Many investigators believe MS to be an autoimmune disease — one in which the body, through its immune system, launches a defensive attack against its own tissues. In the case of MS, it is the nerve-insulating myelin that comes under assault. Such assaults may be linked to an unknown environmental trigger, perhaps a virus.
Most people experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 40; the initial symptom of MS is often blurred or double vision, red-green colour distortion, or even blindness in one eye. Most MS patients experience muscle weakness in their extremities and difficulty with coordination and balance. These symptoms may be severe enough to impair walking or even standing. In the worst cases, MS can produce partial or complete paralysis. Most people with MS also exhibit paresthesias, transitory abnormal sensory feelings such as numbness, prickling, or “pins and needles” sensations. Some may also experience pain. Speech impediments, tremors, and dizziness are other frequent complaints. Occasionally, people with MS have hearing loss. Approximately half of all people with MS experience cognitive impairments such as difficulties with concentration, attention, memory, and poor judgment, but such symptoms are usually mild and are frequently overlooked. Depression is another common feature of MS.
A physician may diagnose MS in some patients soon after the onset of the illness. In others, however, doctors may not be able to readily identify the cause of the symptoms, leading to years of uncertainty and multiple diagnoses punctuated by baffling symptoms that mysteriously wax and wane. The vast majority of patients are mildly affected, but in the worst cases, MS can render a person unable to write, speak, or walk. MS is a disease with a natural tendency to remit spontaneously, for which there is no universally effective treatment.
Currently there is no cure for MS. Many individuals do well with no therapy at all, especially since many medications have serious side effects and some carry significant risks. Steroid drugs may be prescribed to treat acute symptoms of an attack, such as inflammation; they do not affect the course of the disease over time. Several drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat one or more forms of multiple sclerosis, either by decreasing attack frequency and severity, treating relapses, or delaying disease progression. Some drugs are taken intravenously, some by infusion, and some oral. All drugs should be prescribed and closely monitored by specially trained physicians, as some medications have serious side effects. In March 2019 the FDA approved siponimod tablets taken orally by adults to treat relapsing- forms of MS. Beta interferon drugs have been shown to reduce the number of relapses (exacerbations) and may slow the progression of disease. FDA-approved beta interferon drugs for MS include Avonex, Betaseron, Extavia, and Refib. Monoclonal antibody drugs are designed to alter the immune system response to inflammation. Approved drugs include Ocrevus, Lemtrada, and Tysabri. Other drugs approved include Copaxone, Gilenya, Aubagio, and Tecfidera, all of which address relapsing forms of MS. An immunosuppressant treatment, Novantrone, is approved for the treatment of advanced or chronic MA. Ampyra can improve walking in individuals with MS.
HEALTHY PRACTICES TO REDUCE MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS SYMPTOMS
Some complementary health practices, like yoga or tai chi, may help ease some symptoms of MS. There’s no evidence that any dietary supplement is effective for MS.
- Mind and Body Practices
- Practicing yoga may help with fatigue and mood, but not with mobility or thinking ability.
- A few studies have investigated the potential of acupuncture for MS symptoms, and those that have noted benefit have been criticized for having less rigorous methods.
- Reflexology (applying pressure to the soles of the feet) may reduce a burning or prickling sensation associated with MS; however, larger studies are needed to provide a reliable conclusion.
- Dietary Supplements
- Fish oil supplements have not been shown to be helpful for MS.
- Ginkgo has not been shown to enhance the ability to think clearly and logically in people with MS.
- Results of a large, 5-year study suggest that low blood levels of vitamin D may be a risk factor for long-term disease activity and progression. However, more studies need to be done to determine if taking vitamin D supplements is beneficial.
- Other Complementary Health Approaches
- Research involving pulsed magnetic therapy (devices that use an electrical current to generate a magnetic field) has shown mixed results for MS-related fatigue.
- Bee sting, or bee venom, therapy (which involves placing live bees on certain parts of the body and allowing them to sting) seems to have no effect on either MS symptoms or disease progression.
- Chemicals in marijuana known as THC/cannabinoids may relieve spasticity and/or pain in people with MS. While no marijuana-derived medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat MS in the United States, Canada and some European countries have approved Sativex®, a plant-derived cannabinoid prescription drug mouth spray containing THC delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), for MS-related muscle control. It’s unknown if smoking marijuana helps with MS. Researchers have not conducted enough large-scale clinical trials that show that the benefits of the marijuana plant (as opposed to its cannabinoid ingredients) outweigh its risks in patients it’s meant to treat.
- Reflexology, yoga, and tai chi are generally considered safe.
- Acupuncture is considered to be safe when performed by a trained practitioner.
- Bee venom therapy may carry the risk of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
- Cannabinoid medications, which should only be taken when prescribed and monitored by a physician, are generally well tolerated. They may cause dizziness, anxiety, and short-term and long-term problems with memory and concentration. A small number of people may experience nausea/vomiting, constipation, and dry or sore mouth.
- Marijuana can be addictive.
- People who smoke marijuana frequently can have the same breathing problems faced by tobacco smokers (daily cough and phlegm, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk of lung infections); it also can affect the heart.
- If you’re considering a dietary supplement, remember that “natural” does not mean “safe.” Some dietary supplements may have side effects, and some may interact with drugs and other supplements. Taking too much of some supplements, such as vitamin D, can be harmful—and even life-threatening.
This material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position by Neurological Disorders website .
The information in this website has been sourced from National Institute of Health .
Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH