Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system, meaning it affects the brain and spinal cord. In addition to the nervous system, the immune-related disease attacks the myelin sheath (the fatty tissue protecting nerve cells), impacting the body’s ability to transmit neural signals. This makes it immensely difficult for the brain to communicate with the rest of the body and can severely deteriorate or permanently damage the nerves.
Upwards of 2.3 million people in the world have multiple sclerosis. Though MS is most often diagnosed in people between 20 and 50, the disease can, unfortunately, strike at any time, even in old age. Late-onset multiple sclerosis occurs when the symptoms don’t show up until after age 50.
The benefits of home care can be profound for people battling MS. Some available treatments and our Multiple Sclerosis home care service can aid in recovery from the attacks, shift the course of the disease, and help manage symptoms. Knowing the early signs of multiple sclerosis can help ensure you get the proper treatment.
What Are the Early Signs of Multiple Sclerosis?
The signs of MS can vary drastically in terms of actual symptoms and their severity. Typically, how the disorder manifests depends on how much nerve damage someone has experienced and the specific nerves that have been affected. Some individuals permanently lose their ability to walk, while others might have instances of remission in which no new MS symptoms arise.
If you think you or a loved one might have the disorder, knowing the early signs of multiple sclerosis is a crucial first step in getting the help you need. Multiple sclerosis symptoms to look out for include poor vision, numbness or tingling, weakness and fatigue, poor balance or dizziness, pain, muscle spasms, frequent urination, bowel dysfunction, cognitive dysfunction, and behavioral changes. Here’s what you should know.
Eyesight problems are among the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. When the optic nerve becomes inflamed, a person’s central vision is disrupted. You might notice blurriness, double vision, involuntary eye movements, pain when looking up and down or from side to side, or a complete loss of eyesight. These issues may come and go or be more constant.
Numbness or Tingling
A person with MS might also experience numbness or tingling. The disease disrupts pathways between the brain and the rest of the body, and sometimes it blocks nerve signals altogether. This can result in a prickly, tingly feeling or complete numbness. People often have numb legs, arms, fingers, or toes, but it’s not uncommon to experience tingling in the face, abdomen, and other parts of the body as well.
Weakness and Fatigue
Most people with multiple sclerosis report experiencing weakness and fatigue before they received an MS diagnosis. Chronic fatigue occurs when the spinal nerves deteriorate. It usually happens suddenly and can last for weeks at a time. Muscle weakness appears for the same reason and is typically noticed in the legs first.
Poor Balance or Dizziness
Those in the early stages of MS often notice dizziness and coordination issues. The disorder can make a person feel lightheaded or as if the room is spinning, especially right after standing up. This is often called vertigo, and it can create the sensation of being off-balance, which can affect overall mobility.
Muscle spasms (also known as tremors) are also a common early sign of MS, which can feel like mild flutters or more like uncontrollable jerking movements. This symptom is often accompanied by muscle cramps and stiffness throughout the legs and back. Another disease that features this symptom is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), although this disease is different as it’s a nervous system disorder while MS is an autoimmune disease. Alliance Homecare’s ALS home health care service is uniquely designed to treat the specifics of this disease.
The muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis often result in pain throughout the body. It might manifest as what’s referred to as the “MS hug,” which is severe pain surrounding the ribs and chest, or shoots of pain in the limbs or neck area. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, nearly half of people with MS experience chronic pain, and over half experience acute pain.
The National MS Society also reports that bladder dysfunction affects as many as 80 percent of individuals with the disease. With this symptom, a person will usually feel like they need to urinate more than usual and might feel like they can’t hold it in.
Bowel problems are also one of the early signs of multiple sclerosis. This might include diarrhea, constipation, or complete loss of bowel control (also known as incontinence).
Since multiple sclerosis directly affects the brain, about half of people diagnosed with the disorder experience cognitive problems. These issues can vary greatly and might include trouble learning new things, memory issues, difficulty with problem-solving, concentration issues, a shortened attention span, perception problems, and trouble communicating.
Similarly, behavioral changes and mood shifts often affect people with MS. This is partly because the disease disrupts brain pathways, though later on, it can also be a result of a person’s frustration with their other symptoms.
Heightened stress, mood swings, and depression are common among those with multiple sclerosis. Pseudobulbar affect (PBA), which is characterized by sudden and uncontrollable bouts of laughing and crying, is also common.
The Course of MS
Since there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, most people with the condition go through what’s called relapsing-remitting MS (or RRMS). This means they’ll have clear attacks or experience new symptoms (relapse) over weeks or days, followed by periods of recovery (remission) for months or sometimes even years.
While in remission, most or all symptoms might disappear. For some, the symptoms will be permanent, though they won’t notice any disease progression of the disorder during a period of remission.
At least half of the people with RRMS will eventually experience a steady progression of symptoms, most often involving mobility issues. This usually happens 10 to 20 years after the onset of the disease, with or without remission, and is known as secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS).
There are also people with multiple sclerosis who experience a more gradual onset of symptoms, which steadily progress without any relapses. This is known as primary progressive MS (PPMS).
Multiple Sclerosis Risk Factors
MS is not a contagious disease, and it’s not believed to be directly inherited. However, there are certain factors that increase a person’s risk for the disorder. Ethnic background, geographic location, gender, and genetics all play a role in how likely someone is for developing multiple sclerosis.
People of Northern European descent have the highest risk of the disease, while Asian, African, and Native American individuals have the lowest risk. Additionally, those who live farthest from the equator are most likely to be diagnosed with MS. This might be due to lower levels of immune-supporting vitamin D from less sun exposure.
Women tend to have a higher risk than men, though both can develop MS. Additionally, while multiple sclerosis affects roughly one in every 875 individuals in the general population, it’s much more common among those with close relatives who have the disease.
Multiple Sclerosis Home Care in the New York City Metro Area
Those with chronic medical conditions like multiple sclerosis often require specialized long-term care. If you or a loved one are suffering from MS, you can count on Alliance Homecare for disease management and in home nurse care assistance in the New York City metropolitan area. Our team at Alliance Homecare provides resources for families affected by medical conditions like MS. Learn more about what causes multiple sclerosis.
Depending on the type of services needed, we’ll set you up with an experienced registered nurse or home health aide. You may be interested in geriatric care. What is geriatric care? This type of care is a collaborative effort between caregivers and medical professionals. Your at-home caregiver will work closely with your physician and medical support team. We’ll create an individualized care plan, address your symptoms, monitor your progress, mitigate future complications, and put you in the best position to manage the course of the disease—all while ensuring you’re safe and comfortable at home.
What to Expect from Multiple Sclerosis Home Care in NYC
No two care plans are alike, as we strive to develop solutions that work for the unique needs of the individual. Having said that, a typical home care plan for multiple sclerosis might involve reinforcing a medically recommended exercise regimen, assisting with self-care tasks, helping with medication management, and providing support for family members navigating the stresses of an MS diagnosis.
To learn more about what you can expect from in-home care for multiple sclerosis, contact us at Alliance Homecare today.