Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s own immune system eats away at the insulating myelin sheath covering its’ nerve cells. This debilitating disease leads to a slow deterioration of the nerve cells leading to their eventual death.
The damage to the cells results in inability of the nerves to communicate with the rest of the body resulting in a wide variety of physical, mental and sometimes psychiatric signs and symptoms. Common symptoms include double vision, blindness in one eye, muscle weakness and trouble with coordination, bladder and bowel changes and sometimes loss of sensation.
This chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system is thought to affect as many as 2.3 million people worldwide, even though treatment options are still a major challenge. The disease occurs in different forms including isolated relapsing attacks or in the progressive form where it builds up slowly over time. In-between the attacks, the symptoms may disappear completely in some people, but the neurological damage remains, especially as the disease advances with time.
Till date, there is no complete cure for multiple sclerosis and treatment is more management-based focusing on helping the patient recover from each episode as well as managing symptoms and slowing down the progression of the disease; at the same time, there are some people with multiple sclerosis whose symptoms are so mild that they don’t even require any treatment!
Traditional management of attacks is by the use of oral or IV corticosteroids to reduce nerve damage. Another method used is through plasma exchange (plasmapheresis) where plasma which is the liquid portion of the blood is removed and the leftover blood cells are mixed with an albumin solution and returned back into the body. This method is used when the symptoms are severe and not responding to steroids.
There are a number of medicines used when there is a flare-up to help control the damage to nerve cells and control symptoms. However most of them come with their own share of side-effects and toxicity, so treatment becomes an on-going battle. A new FDA-approved drug known as Ocrelizumab could be the next-gen form of therapy for controlling progress of multiple sclerosis as it specifically targets a type of B cells that are involved in destruction of the myelin sheaths of nerve cells. The drug is found to reduce relapse rates by 47%, disability by 43% and reduces inflammation by 95%; aside from this it also appears to slow down the advancement of the progressive form of the disease.
Physical therapy may help you in managing muscle weakness, muscle stiffness, spasms as well as gait problems that are quite often associated with multiple sclerosis. Medications may also be given to take care of associated symptoms like fatigue, pain, depression, bladder or bowel dysfunction, etc.
Many people also opt for alternative medical treatments including massage, yoga, special diets, acupuncture and meditation, even though there is no evidence to back-up their use.