Tuesday, June 12, 2012

MS symptoms explained, part three

Before I continue where I left off with the MS symptom list, I would like to revisit one of the symptoms I did not give enough attention to, and that is optic neuritis.  I only experienced this once, back in 1990.  It was the first indication that I could possibly have MS but since it has not affected me since then, I did not list how troublesome it really is and I apologize for this.

Optic neuritis.  Ironically, I was not satisfied with what I found on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's website, so on to find a better site and I came across a very informative one at:

Optic Neuritis (ON) is an inflammation, with accompanying demyelination, of the Optic Nerve (Cranial Nerve II) serving the retina of the eye.

The main symptoms of Optic Neuritis are:
-- loss of visual acuity (blurring of vision) which occurs in around 58% of ON cases.  This can range from mild blurring in 34% of cases, through moderate loss of acuity in 12%, to severe or total loss of light perception (complete blindness in 54% of cases.
-- eye pain occurs in 53% to 88% of ON presentations. (please check the above mentioned website for the breakdown of the different types of pain)
-- Dyschromatopsia (reduced color vision) occurs in 100% of ON cases.
-- movement and sound phosphenes (visual flashing sensations brought about by side-to-side movement or sound) often occur with ON.
-- Uhthoff's syndrome, the worsening of symptoms with heat of exhaustion, is present in about 58% of cases of ON.

Optic neuritis is obviously something many of us with MS have gone through and it is hardly easy to deal with as it can become rather painful and disrupts our lives terribly.
Sexual dysfunction.  No one really likes to think about losing this part of themselves and I must admit that I've been mostly lucky in this regard.  There have been times, however, when in the middle of having intercourse I have suddenly become too numb to enjoy it anymore but continue for the sake of my partner.  The way my body has been feeling lately, I wonder if I would be able to enjoy anything sexual at this point but then again, I'm open to try!

According to the National MS Society:
Sexual problems are often experienced by people with MS, but they are very common in the general population as well.  Sexual arousal begins in the central nervous system, as the brain sends messages to the sexual organs along nerves running through the spinal cord.  If MS damages these nerve pathways, sexual response-- including arousal and orgasm-- can be directly affected.  Sexual problems also stem from MS symptoms such as fatigue or spasticity, as well as from psychological factors relating to self-esteem and mood changes.

In a recent study, 63% of people with MS reported that their sexual activity had declines since their diagnosis.  Other surveys of persons with MS suggest that as many as 91% of men and 72% of women may be affected by sexual problems.  Ignoring these problems can lead to major losses in quality of life.

In women, symptoms include:
-- reduced sensation in the vaginal/clitoral area, or painfully heightened sensation
-- vaginal dryness
-- trouble achieving orgasm
-- loss of libido

In men, symptoms include:
-- difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection (by far the most common problem)
-- reduced sensation in the penis
-- difficulty achieving orgasm and/or ejaculation
-- loss of libido

Other MS symptoms cause problems in both sexes:
-- fatigue and weakness can interfere with sexual interest and/or activity.
-- spasticity can cause cramping or uncontrollable spasms in the legs, causing them to pull together or making them difficult to separate-- either of which can make positioning difficult or uncomfortable.
-- pain can interfere with pleasure.
-- embarrassment can be caused by bowel or bladder incontinence.
This should about cover the sexual problems we could have along the way, but I still try to have a positive attitude.  I'd rather smile and giggle than be upset since being sad won't help anyway.

Sensitivity to heat.  Heat sensitivity seems to be a very common problem with those of us with MS.  Personally, I cannot live without central air conditioning at home, an air conditioned vehicle and generally keeping cool year long.  My normal body temperature runs between 95 and no higher than 97.7, so it's extremely important to keep it below 98 as even the "average" 98.6 is very high for me.

What I have found works to keep my body cool when I am in a situation where it's unbearably hot for me is to put a cool washcloth on the back of my neck, soak my feet in a bucket of cold ice water (it hurts at first but soon after, it's wonderful!), or even put a few ice cubes down my shirt.  Back when I used to go outside on a more regular basis, I would even put ice cubes in a baggie, put it on my head and cover it with a bandanna.  I freely admit it was NOT the most attractive look, but it sure kept my body cool!

Here is a brief summary of what the National MS Society has on their page:
"Many with MS experience a temporary worsening of symptoms with the weather is very hot or humid or they run a fever, sunbathe, get overheated from exercise, or take very hot showers or baths.  These temporary changes can result from even a very slight elevation in core body temperature (one-quarter to one-half of a degree) because an elevated temperature further impairs the ability of a demyelinated nerve to conduct electrical impulses.  It's important to remember that heat generally produces only temporary worsening of symptoms and does not cause more disease activity.  They symptoms are generally rapidly reversed when the source of increased temperature is removed.

Strategies for easing the effects of heat:
-- stay in an air conditioned environment during periods of extreme heat and humidity (if an air conditioner is needed to help minimize the symptoms of MS, the cost of this equipment may be tax deductible if the physician has written a prescription for it).
-- use cooling products (vests, neck wraps, bandannas, etc.) during exercise or outdoor activity, or pre- and post- cool.
-- wear lightweight, loose, "breathe-able" clothing.
-- icy drinks such as "Slurpees" or popsicles can provide temporary relief.
-- use an oscillating fan during indoor exercise.
-- exercise in a cool pool (less than 85 degrees).
Or you can contact the MS Society at 1-800-344-4867 for a list of approved cooling product vendors.

Some people with MS notice that symptoms, particularly spasticity, become worse in cold weather.

I have to say that as someone who lives in the Midwest, USA, where it gets deathly hot and humid in the summer and unbelievable cold in the winter, I am terribly affected by the weather all year!  The cold never bothered me until maybe five years ago but now it causes me tremendous pain in my entire body.  Basically, I live for those two glorious weeks of spring when the weather and barometer are just right, and once again in the fall when everything is phenomenal.  The rest of the year?  Ugh.  I stay indoors!
I have one more point to get to on the list but ironically, this list didn't mention a few that I feel it should have.  I'll do my best to address as many as I can this week!  For now, I'm finished as it is already quite late.

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