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10 terms every person newly diagnosed with MS should know

By Matt Cavallo

If you are experiencing neurological symptoms and are in the process of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, you are going to hear terms that you may never have heard before. Below are 10 common terms that every person who is newly diagnosed, or is being diagnosed, with MS should know. 

1. Multiple sclerosis (MS) – Multiple sclerosis, or MS, affects more than 2.7 million people worldwide. MS is often referred to as the “snowflake disease” because although people living with MS may experience similar symptoms, no two cases of a MS are alike. While being diagnosed with MS can be scary, it is a much more manageable disease because of advances in treatments that have been developed over the past decade. 

2. Optic neuritis (ON) – Optic neuritis is inflammation or swelling of the optic nerve. This can cause vision loss, blurry vision, and/or pain. Vision problems are often the first symptom of MS. Many people who have optic neuritis go on to develop MS and for some people, they never have another symptom. Optic neuritis can be treated with steroids, or it may get better on its own.

3. Transverse myelitis (TM) – Transverse myelitis is inflammation or swelling of the spinal cord. TM can cause many different symptoms including numbness and tingling, paralysis, pain, weakness, bladder and bowel issues. For some, transverse myelitis is the first symptom of an MS diagnosis, and others who have TM may never go on to develop MS.

4. Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) – Clinically isolated syndrome, or CIS, is a person’s first bout of neurological symptoms caused by demyelination or inflammation that last for at least 24 hours. Transverse myelitis and optic neuritis are examples of CIS. The difference between CIS and MS is the CIS happens to a person only once. For example, if a person has a bout of optic neuritis, but never has a second neurological symptom, that person had CIS. If a person had optic neuritis and then had transverse myelitis, that person had two neurological symptoms and the diagnosis is no long CIS.

5. Central nervous system (CNS) – the central nervous system is the brain and the spinal cord. MS is a disease that targets the central nervous system.

6. Myelin – Myelin, or myelin sheath, is the insulating layer around the nerves. Myelin ensures that messages travel from the central nervous system to the nerves quickly and efficiently.

7. Demyelination – Demyelination occurs when a disease, such as MS, attacks the central nervous system and causes damage to the myelin sheath. Once the myelin is damaged, nerve impulses can be slowed down or stopped completely causing neurological problems like optic neuritis or transverse myelitis.

8. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – MRI is an imaging scan that uses magnets and radio waves to develop detailed images inside the body. MRIs can be used to help diagnose MS and track MS progression. MRIs for MS diagnosis and tracking are usually of the brain and/or spine. To take an MRI, a person lays down on a flat bed at the base of the MRI tube. The bed and the person are then pushed back into the tube. The MRI machine makes loud sounds during the test using a frequency of radio wave. The tube is a tight confinement that can cause claustrophobia for some. For those who may have claustrophobic symptoms, an open MRI may be a viable option.

9. Gadolinium dye – Gadolinium dye is used during the MRI exam to show contrast. Gadolinium dye is inserted intravenously into the body. Once in the body, the MRI tests are repeated, and the new images show contrast to the previous images improving visibility of anomalies such as inflammation and lesions.

10. Lumbar puncture – Lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, is one of the oldest ways to diagnose MS and is an effective way to diagnosis central nervous disorders. A needle is inserted into the spine to collect spinal fluid. The results of the lumbar puncture help in determining whether a person has MS.