Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system, the nerves that make up the brain and spinal cord. This disease is commonly known as MS. Its cause is unknown, it cannot be prevented, and neither a cure or a safe and effective treatment has been able to halt its progression so far. It is not fatal, and much progress is being made in treating symptoms and identifying mechanisms that trigger this disease.
Sclerosis comes from the Greek word skleros, which means hard. Multiple sclerosis refers to multiple areas of patchy scarring, or plaques, that result from demyelination, which means destruction of myelin, a fatty insulation covering the nerve fibers. Myelin is made from layers of cell membranes that are produced in the brain and spinal cord.
Multiple sclerosis is defined as an autoimmune disease, which means the body?s immune system is damaged by genetic or environmental factors or both into attacking its own tissues. In other words the body becomes allergic to itself. Multiple sclerosis involves repeated episodes of inflammation of nervous tissue in any area of the central nervous system. The location of the inflammation varies form person to person and from episode to episode. The inflammation destroys the covering of the nerve cells in that area. This leaves multiple areas of scar tissue (sclerosis) along the covering of the nerve cells. Sclerosis slows or blocks the transmission of nerve impulses in that area, resulting in the development of the symptoms of MS. Symptom varies because the location and extent of each attack varies. There is usually a stepwise progression of the disorder, with episodes that last days, weeks, or months alternating with times of reduced or no symptoms (remission). Recurrence (relapse) is common.
The exact cause of the inflammation associated with MS is unknown. Geographic studies indicate there may be an environmental factor involved with MS. A higher percentage of people have been diagnosed with MS in northern Europe, northern United States, southern Australia, and New Zealand than in any other area of the world. The most frequent theories about the cause of multiple sclerosis include a virus-type organism, an abnormality of the genes responsible for control of the immune system, or a combination of both. Risks include a family history of MS and living in a geographical area with a higher incidence rate for MS. There is no known prevention.
Few of the hundreds of symptoms would be weakness, paralysis, tremors, muscle spasticity, muscle atrophy, numbness, tingling, facial pain, loss of vision, eye discomfort, decreased coordination, loss of balance, muscle spasms, frequent need to urinate, decreased memory, depression, decreased attention span, and difficulty speaking. Symptoms of MS may also result in many other neurologic disorders.
Currently medications cannot repair the nerve defects of multiple sclerosis or change the course of the disease, but many drugs are being developed. Treatment is aimed at controlling symptoms and maintaining function to give the maximum quality of life. Health maintenance and stress reduction is what MS patients should make every effort to achieve. Included in trying to achieve and preserve general good health is: proper diet, reducing stress, exercise, avoid overheating, and most important to get outside support.
The latest research investigators are working on to help cure MS is a vaccine against T-cells that destroy myelin. The patient is injected with inactive forms of these T-cells in hope that the body?s immune system will attack the active T-cells. In one small study, 6 out of 17 vaccinated patients experienced improved symptoms or were stable. It should also be mentioned that symptoms worsened in 8 of the 11 people who did not respond to the vaccine. Because of certain associations between multiple sclerosis and the virus that causes shingles and chicken pox, another trial tested the varicella-zoster (chicken pox) vaccine. Out of 50 patients vaccinated, 14 improved, 4 were worse, and 29 remained unchanged.
The expected outcome is different and unpredictable. Although the disorder is chronic and incurable, life expectancy can be normal or nearly so, with a life span of 35 or more years after diagnosis. Most people with MS continue to walk and function at work with minimal disability for 20 or more years. The amount of disability and discomfort varies with the severity and frequency of attacks and the part of the central nervous system affected by each attack. Usually there is initially a return to normal or near-normal function between attacks. As the disorder progresses, there is progressive loss of function with less improvement between attacks.