What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
Doctors and scientists believe that multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system: the brain, spinal cord and the optic nerves. A fatty tissue called myelin, which helps nerve fibers conduct electrical impulses, surrounds and protects our nerve fibers. MS occurs when myelin is missing in several areas, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis. Sometimes the nerve fiber itself is damaged or broken. Myelin not only protects nerve fibers, but also makes their job possible. When myelin is destroyed or damaged, our nerves cannot do their job; this is what causes MS symptoms.
What are the characteristics of MS?
Doctors and researchers have identified several different variations of the disease, each of which might be mild, moderate or severe. The most common form is Relapsing-Remitting MS, where there are clearly defined flare-ups of the disease and episodes of acute worsening of neurological functioning. Partial or complete recovery periods, (remissions) free of disease, follow the episodes. This is by far the most common form of MS and approximately 85% of MS sufferers have this.
It used to be that half of MS sufferers with Relapsing-Remitting MS developed Secondary-Progressive MS, with an initial period of relapsing-remitting disease followed by a steady worsening of symptoms. New and powerful disease-fighting drugs have been developed; but there is currently not enough information to tell how effective they are long term.
What causes MS?
The exact cause of MS is unknown. The disease is a malfunction of the immune system. Researchers have identified various possible factors, including genetics, gender and environmental toxins.
Who is most likely to get it?
- Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50
- Two to three times as many women suffer from MS as men
- There is no evidence that MS is directly inherited
- MS occurs more commonly among people with Northern European ancestry
- Approximately 400,000 Americans have been diagnosed with MS, 200 new cases per week
What are the symptoms of MS?
Symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary with individuals. Fatigue, severe vision problems, loss of balance and muscle coordination, slurred speech, tremors, stiffness and bladder problems are just some of the symptoms.
How is it diagnosed?
There is no single test to diagnose MS, so doctors use several tests and procedures including:
- Complete medical history
- Testing reflexes, balance, coordination, vision and checking for areas of numbness
- Diagnostic tests including MRI scan and spinal tap
How can I learn more about MS or get involved in the cause?
The best source of information on MS and links to opportunities in your area to get involved is the National MS Society. Visit them online at http://www.nationalmssociety.org/index.aspx or click below: