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About Multiple Sclerosis

A wide-ranging disease with more questions than answers

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the body’s central nervous system. It is believed to be caused by alterations in the immune system causing the cells of immunity to be damaged. The signals to the nerves either slow down or stop completely. More common in women than men, the disease typically occurs between the ages of 20 and 40 but can be present at any age. The cause of MS is not known and could include genetic, viral or environmental factors.

Symptoms of MS can be unpredictable. They can appear for short or long periods of time. They can be severe or hardly noticeable. Some people who have been diagnosed with MS may experience relatively minor complications. Others may notice life-altering effects over the lifetime of the disease. Some of the more common early symptoms include:

  • Pain and loss of vision due to inflammation of the optic nerve
  • Difficulty walking
  • Abnormal sensation, or pain, such as numbness or prickling
  • Vertigo

As the symptoms progress, MS patients may experience muscle weakness, poor coordination, muscle stiffness or spasms, dizziness and fatigue. Approximately half of all patients will experience memory issues, concentration and attention difficulties and poor judgment.

The University of Kansas Health System has the only program in the area with neurologists who are specifically trained to treat MS patients. It is designated as a Comprehensive Care Center by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and is a full member of the Consortium of MS Centers. It also has MS-certified nurses on staff.

Tools to determine the problem

There is no definitive test that will positively diagnose multiple sclerosis. Instead, doctors will conduct a complete battery of tests and evaluations in order to rule out other diseases. These tests and evaluations typically will include:

  • Full neurological examination to encompass mental, emotional and language functions as well as movement and coordination, vision, balance and sense function
  • Complete review of medical history
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Spinal tap or lumbar puncture to analyze the fluid around the spinal column
  • Blood tests to rule out other causes

What can be done

There is no cure for MS; however, there are different treatments that can help manage the symptoms, slow the progression or change the path of the disease or improve function and mobility. Working with you, your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on your overall health and medical history as well as your age, the extent of the disease and your tolerance for medicines and therapies. Ultimately, your symptoms can be treated through the following methods:

  • Medication
  • Rehabilitation
  • Lifestyle changes

Physicians at The University of Kansas Health System lead research to determine the causes of MS and, ultimately, to find a cure for this unpredictable disease. Patients who wish to be involved in clinical trials are encouraged to talk to their doctor about participating in studies that could one day slow the disease’s progression, find a cause or find a cure.