According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS impacts 2.1 million people worldwide. This disease is two to three times more common in women than it is in men and is primarily diagnosed in young people. In order to diagnose MS, physicians use medical imaging to look for scar tissue and damage on both the spinal cord and the brain. However, it is often difficult to diagnose MS in its early stages as the symptoms are not constant. Though much is known about the disease and its progression, very little is known about what causes MS.
There are both physical and mental symptoms associated with MS. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Walking, Balance, and Coordination Problems
- Bladder Dysfunction
- Bowel Dysfunction
- Vision Problems
- Dizziness and Vertigo
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Cognitive Dysfunction
- Emotional Changes
- Spasticity (stiff or rigid muscles)
Other less common symptoms include speech disorders, swallowing problems, headache, hearing loss, seizures, tremor, respiration and breathing problems, and itching.
No two people have the exact same symptoms and progression of MS. However, there are four primary courses of MS that are used by medical professionals in their treatment of this disease:
- Relapsing-Remitting: This is the most commonly diagnosed course of MS. It is characterized by attacks (periods of time where symptoms of MS are more prevalent and neurological function is worse) separated by distinct periods of remission where the individual?s condition improves significantly or they recover from the attack completely.
- Primary-Progressive: This course of MS is rare and characterized by constantly worsening symptoms. Though individuals may experience temporary improvements or plateaus in the progression of their disease, there are no distinct periods of remission. Progression does not always occur at a steady pace.
- Secondary-Progressive: This course is often seen in the later stages of multiple sclerosis in individuals initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. Though there may be some remissions or plateaus, neurological condition and symptoms are constantly and steadily worsening.
- Progressive-Relapsing: This is the rarest course of MS and is characterized by a steadily worsening condition from the time of initial diagnosis. Though there are no periods of remission in this course, the individual may still experience attacks or distinct periods where symptoms are the most exacerbated.
If you’re diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and can’t work as a result, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. If a disability decision cannot be made on medical factors alone, your situation will be evaluated based on a variety of physical and/or mental limitations you may have that prevent you from working. These include:
- How well you can perform physical tasks such as walking, standing, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, reaching, and handling objects; or
- How well you can perform mental tasks such as understanding, carrying out, and remembering instructions; responding appropriately to supervision and co-workers; and dealing with work pressures.
Improving Your Chances for Obtaining Benefits
Because a diagnosis of MS is partially based on the presence of certain symptoms, it is especially important for you to:
- Keep a detailed journal, including a calendar of notes about how you feel each day.
- Record any usual activities you could not do on any given day.
- Keep a detailed history of your current and past medications and any side effects you experience.
- See a doctor regularly and take the medication that he/she gives you so that your doctor can support your application for benefits.
- If possible, see a specialist, such as a neurologist, for a confirming diagnosis.
- Ask your doctor or other health care professional to track the course of your symptoms and to keep a record of any evidence of fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, dizziness, numbness or weakness, problems with walking or balance, and other symptoms you experience.
- Keep records of how your illness affected you on the job.