What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

Worldwide there are 2.3 million people diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  It is estimated 1 million of these people are in the United States.  MS is an immune-mediated disease (IMID), that results from the immune system overreacting and attacking the myelin of the central nervous system (CNS) which includes the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord.  Myelin is the insulating layer around the nerves that carry electrical impulses from the brain to the rest of the body.  When the myelin is damaged it causes damage to the nerve fibers and causes electrical impulses to slow down resulting in disrupted communication between the brain and the body.  There is no cure for MS, but there are treatments that slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms. 

There is no specific test for MS. A diagnosis is made as other conditions which produce similar symptoms are ruled out.  Several strategies are used to determine if you meet the long-established criteria for a diagnosis of MS, they include a careful medical history, a neurologic exam, and various tests including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), spinal fluid analysis, and blood tests to rule out other conditions.2

What are the symptoms of MS?  According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the  National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH), symptoms of the disease include:

  • Vision problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling, numbness, or pain in the arms, legs, trunk, or face
  • Clumsiness or spasticity
  • Bladder or bowel problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Pain, itching, and spasms
  • Intermittent dizziness or vertigo
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes, depression, or difficulty with emotional expression or control
  • Cognitive problems

MS is a chronic disease that affects people differently. A small number of those with MS will have a mild course with little to no disability, while others will have a steadily worsening disease that leads to increased disability over time. Symptoms may disappear or remit completely, or they may persist and worsen over time.  The disease is rarely fatal and most people with MS have a normal life expectancy.  A shorter life expectancy comes from secondary complications resulting from immobility, chronic urinary tract infections, and compromised swallowing and breathing.  

All the symptoms of MS can interfere with mobility and other functions.  As a result, people with MS may be at significant risk for falls and the potentially life-changing consequences of fall-related injuries. Studies have shown that approximately half of the middle-aged and older individuals with MS experience at least one fall over a six-month period.3

To minimize fall risks there are modifications to a home that can be made and there are mobility devices that can be used to live life comfortably, safely, and with a limited drain on your energy.  There are measures that can be taken to ensure the ability to stay independent, safe, and comfortable at home.   

What home modifications can benefit an MS patient?

  • Removing door sills or installing ramps  to ensure thresholds do not present a tripping hazard
  • Identifying steps and drop-off by applying bright colored paint and texture to them
  • Create a barrier-free shower
  • Utilizing a shower chair or elevated toilet seat
  • Purchasing an adjustable bed
  • Purchasing or renting a  portable shower  (no need to remodel)
  • Installing  an electric stairlift (this can be rented or purchased)
  • Purchasing a walker, wheelchair, or scooter

If you are diagnosed with MS it is important to find the right healthcare professional that knows the medications used to modify the disease course and manage relapses and symptoms.  The National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH) provide access to the resources you need to live your best life with MS.

1 https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/MS-FAQ-s

2 https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/Diagnosing-MS

3 https://nmsscdn.azureedge.net/NationalMSSociety/media/MSNationalFiles/Brochures/Brochure-Minimizing-Your-Risk-of-Falls.pdf  (Page 4 Paragraph 2)