What Does Multiple Sclerosis Do to the Body?   

What Does Multiple Sclerosis Do to the Body?

Multiple Sclerosis written on a chalk board with a stethoscope next to it, symbolizing diagnosis
Clinical Contributors to this story:
David B Duncan, M.D.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the myelin (the layer that surrounds nerves in the spinal cord and brain). Over time, that leads to increasing numbness/tingling, weakness, vision problems and balance issues, says David Duncan, M.D., FAAN, MSCS, a neurologist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

Dr. Duncan details what a person diagnosed with multiple sclerosis can expect and the disease’s effects on the body.

Stages of Multiple Sclerosis

There two basic stages of multiple sclerosis:

Pre-clinical stage. “This is a period of time when people are asymptomatic, but the disease is occurring in the central nervous system,” Dr. Duncan says. As the disease progresses, numbness/tingling, weakness, vision problems and balance issues emerge, leading to a diagnosis.

Clinical stage. Once a person is diagnosed, they enter the second stage, which can go in one of two directions:

  • Relapsing. People who experience relapsing multiple sclerosis will have acute attacks of symptoms that come and go.
  • Progressing. People who experience progressive multiple sclerosis will have continuous symptoms that worsen over time.

Treatment Influences Progression

The trajectory of multiple sclerosis greatly differs if the disease is being treated or not. People who are diagnosed and treated earlier in the course of their illness can experience remission for an extended period and significantly affect their long-term outcome.

Conversely, Dr. Duncan says that patients who go untreated, after the initial presentation of symptoms, can suffer significant disabilities.

Multiple sclerosis needs to be treated on two levels:

  1. Treat the disease itself. This treatment keeps the disease from further progression or reduces the progression as much as possible.
  2. Treat the symptoms of the disease. This treatment focuses on mitigating some of the common effects such as:
  • Pain/numbness
  • Walking impairment
  • Cognitive issues
  • Bowel/bladder problems

Mitigating Multiple Sclerosis Effects on the Body

In addition to treatment options that slow the progression of the disease and reduce symptoms, lifestyle changes can have a positive impact:

  • Proper nutrition such as the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, olive oil and fish—which emphasizes food that are good for brain health
  • Regular exercise to improve strength and coordination
  • Quitting smoking (research shows that smoking speeds up multiple sclerosis progression)
  • Controlled comorbidities such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes—certain uncontrolled comorbidities can contribute to greater disability, accelerated disease progression and reduced quality of life.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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