Understanding lesions

Find answers to common questions about lesions
What are lesions and how do they affect MS symptoms?

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In multiple sclerosis (MS), the body mistakenly attacks the protective layer around the nerves in the brain and spinal cord (also known as myelin). These damaged areas are called plaques or lesions. Everyone with MS will get lesions with varying severity. However, lesions tend to happen more in people with relapsing MS. Healthcare providers monitor lesions to track disease progression.

Let your healthcare provider know if you experience any symptoms that may indicate you have lesions, and discuss the best practice of managing them.

Find answers to common questions about lesions below.

What is a lesion?

Lesions are evidence of nerve cell damage in your brain or spinal cord. They can grow larger and new lesions can develop over time. Finding and treating them early may help reduce the size and number of lesions.

Will lesions cause or worsen my MS symptoms?

Depending on the location of lesions, they can lead to various symptoms. For example, lesions on the spinal cord may cause sensory or motor challenges. Lesions in the front of the brain may cause weakness or numbness. Lesions on the back part of the brain may cause issues with balance and coordination.

Although everyone’s situation is different, sometimes people with MS can develop new or changing lesions in the brain or spinal cord without any outward symptoms and no increase in relapses. This means the disease may still be progressing and causing nerve cell damage, even though someone with lesions may not feel it. But with regular healthcare team appointments and MRIs, lesions can be monitored to see if there is progression.

How will I know if I have a lesion?

If a healthcare provider suspects that someone may have MS, he or she will typically conduct a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screening. MRI scans are used to check for new or changing lesions on the brain. It’s important to schedule regular appointments and MRI exams to monitor this.

How do doctors monitor lesions?

People with MS can’t monitor their own lesions, but they can let their healthcare provider know about their symptoms. Just as a doctor will use an MRI scan to detect lesions, he or she may continue using this method to monitor them.

There are multiple MRI tests that can provide different information about MS:

  1. T1 tests can show more permanent nerve tissue damage.
  2. T1 tests with gadolinium screen for active inflammation.
  3. T2 tests provide information about the total lesion area, both old and new.

Open communication with your healthcare provider about monitoring lesions is important. Your healthcare provider may be able to help reduce and slow down the growth of lesions.

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