It’s important for caregivers to be aware of the warning signs that your loved one may be experiencing a medical emergency. After all, you never know when a medical emergency will occur! Most medical emergencies have specific and unique warning signs, but what happens when those warning signs overlap? MS and strokes have very similar warning signs, leading many to wonder: is it MS or a stroke?
What is MS?
Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic disease resulting in nerve damage in both the brain and spinal cord. The body’s immune system attacks the nerve fibers surrounding the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. These nerve fibers are covered in myelin, a fatty substance that helps send electrical signals that control essential bodily functions such as movement and speech. But when myelin is destroyed, numerous areas of scar tissue develop, and as a result, nerve messages cannot be transmitted properly.
So what exactly causes MS? Unfortunately, researchers aren’t entirely sure, but there are some suggestive trends. It seems that those living farther from the equator are more likely to develop autoimmune disorders. Genetics also seem to be a factor as well, but research continues to find a more definite cause.
Know the Warning Signs: MS vs. Stroke
Below are the common warning signs of MS according to WebMD:
- Weakness or Numbness: Initial symptoms of MS are weakness in an arm or leg, numbness, difficulty maintaining balance and even muscle spasms. Tripping or having difficulty walking may be common side effects of these symptoms.
- Vision Problems: Although this symptom is not seen in everyone, more than 50 percent experience optic neuritis, meaning that the optic nerve is inflamed. This inflammation can cause blurred vision, eye pain, loss of color vision and even blindness in one eye. This is typically the first symptom seen in someone who has MS, but it’s important to note that vision problems are usually only temporary.
- Speech Problems: Speech problems are less common than vision problems, but some may develop slurred speech or have difficulty swallowing, especially if the nerves that carry speech signals are affected by the disease.
- Decline in Mental Capabilities: This decline may become evident in several different ways, such as having difficulty solving problems, concentrating and even mild memory loss.
- Loss in Bladder Control: This symptom is seen when signals can no longer be sent between the brain and bladder.
- Fatigue: Even after getting a good night’s rest, MS patients may still feel tired.
So why are the warning signs of MS and a stroke commonly confused? Just look at the warning signs of a stroke below and you’ll see why:
- Facial weakness: One side of the face is numb or drooping.
- Arm Weakness: One arm is numb or weak.
- Speech Difficulty: Someone suffering a stroke cannot speak clearly or repeat correctly.
Now that you know the different (and somewhat overlapping) warning signs, what do you do if you notice any of these signs? Call 911 immediately. If someone is experiencing a stroke, the sooner they get to the hospital, the better chances they have of making a full recovery. Even if the person isn’t having a stroke, taking someone to the hospital is the right course of action since a neurological exam is needed to determine if they may have MS.
The warning signs of MS and a stroke may overlap, but just remember that knowing the warning signs can help you saved your loved one’s life!