Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease which causes degeneration in the nerves by attacking the spinal cord and the brain, which controls the motor and sensory functions of the body. The name “Multiple Sclerosis” comes from the scar tissue (sclerosis) that builds up in the spinal column and brain.
This scar tissue is formed when the myelin sheath is destroyed. Myelin is a substance that insulates the nerves, but MS creates inflammation which destroys the myelin, leaving the nerves unprotected. The nerves are capable of regenerating some myelin, but this is often not enough to beat the rate of deterioration caused by MS.
Although the actual cause of MS isn’t known, it is believed that genes, the environment and immunology play important roles. There are four types of MS. Relapsing-remitting is the main form, and it affects about 85% of people. It involves times where the MS gets worse for weeks or months at a time, but it can also go into remission, allowing the patients to feel somewhat or even much better.
Primary-progressive MS affects one in ten people, and is a slow process that gets worse over time. Secondary-progressive MS starts like the relapsing-remitting form, but over time it can get worse, with minimal periods of remission. Progressive-relapsing MS grows steadily worse and has the occasional flare-up as well. Fortunately, this is a rare form, only seen in 5% of patients.
The symptoms of MS can be mild, moderate or severe. The principal treatment for MS is medication which can be taken orally, through an infusion or an injection. However, tests have to be conducted first to determine the nature of the condition and how severe it is. Such tests include MRIs and a spinal tap which checks for abnormalities within the cerebrospinal fluid.
Symptoms of MS can include: fatigue, muscles spasms and weakness, eye pain, double vision, blurry vision, memory loss, impaired judgment, a decrease in concentration, reduced coordination, speech problems, writing and walking problems. One reason for some of these symptoms is that the messages being relayed along the nerves slow down in people with MS.
As a consequence, the electrical impulses which command the muscles to walk, talk, write, etc, become diluted and confusing, if they get through at all. In fact, some of the nerves may also get damaged due to MS, and this means that not all the messages will get through.
MS affects one in 1,000 people and around 400,000 Americans have Multiple Sclerosis. People between the ages of 20-50 are more likely to get it, but it has also been diagnosed in children and the elderly. Women are twice as likely as men to contract MS in their earlier years, and Caucasians are twice as likely to contract MS as non-Caucasians.
If you notice any unusual symptoms, make sure to see your doctor. You never know what you can prevent with a simple visit.