MS Defined

Multiple sclerosis is a mysterious, unpredictable disease that even has doctors puzzled. It is thought to be autoimmune in nature (the body’s own immune system, for whatever reason, attacks its own tissue). MS is also a neurological disease, because the nerves of the central nervous system (within the brain and the spinal cord) are the targets of the attacks. The myelin, or protective nerve covering, is what is damaged during an MS attack, causing scarring or lesions on the nerves. The name “multiple sclerosis” is derived from the various scarrings that are found on an MS patient’s MRIs. Because of these nerve scarrings, nerve functions can be impaired or completely lost.

MS Statistics

Doctors are currently trying to make connections to different reasons why some people develop this neurological illness and are considering genetic, environmental, or even possible viral links as contributing factors. Currently, researchers can trace patterns of increased cases of MS to individuals who live in cooler, more temperate climates, and have noticed that the closer a person lives to the equator, the less likely they will be to contract the disease. Although there is no conclusive genetic link, siblings and particularly identical twins have the greatest chance of developing multiple sclerosis if another sibling already has the disease. Doctors are also investigating the possibility of people contracting MS if they suffered from a certain viral infection at a younger age. Finally, there appears to be a gender preference as women are more likely than men to develop multiple sclerosis; however, the disease has been known to affect men more severely.

MS Symptoms

Patients develop symptoms due to multiple sclerosis attacks. These can also be considered areas of impairment, since they signify nerve damage. MS symptoms can include:

  • tingling/numbness in the limbs, torso, and/or face
  • pain
  • burning sensations
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • tightening sensations (especially in the torso or legs)
  • bladder and bowel weakness
  • visual problems
  • tremors
  • muscle spasms
  • vertigo
  • unsteady gait or trouble walking
  • swallowing/speech issues
  • cognitive problems
  • seizures

Symptoms/impairments depend on the areas of nerve damage, and the symptoms can fluctuate throughout the day or throughout a lifetime. Some are permanent and others are transient.

Types of MS

The patterns for multiple sclerosis tend to fall into one of four categories. The first, relapsing/remitting, is the most common form at onset. There are attacks on the nerves (relapses), then the body recuperates (remittance). Nevertheless, damage from these attacks is cumulative, and disability can increase as a person suffers more attacks. Secondary progressive MS can emerge after years of the relapsing/remitting variety (although not always), and is characterized by a steady decline with no more attacks or recoveries. Primary progressive multiple sclerosis is characterized by a continual decline from the onset of the disease. Finally, relapsing/ progressive MS seems to exhibit occasional flare-ups while all along the progression is continuous.

MS Treatments and Outlook

Current treatments for multiple sclerosis include disease-modifying drugs, such as Avonex, Betaseron, Copaxone, and Rebif. These medications are taken as injections and are known to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis in many patients. Certain types of steroids are used on patients with serious relapses in order to stop inflammation and damage to nerves. Novantrone & Tysabri, other multiple sclerosis drugs, are used in MS cases when treatment with the above ABC drugs fail to show results. Future prospects include oral medications and possible stem-cell remedies. A cure is thought to be around the corner, and with so many new medications created in just the past 15 years, this seems like a definite possibility.

*For further reference, please visit The National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s website.

2 comments

  • Holly Tuscher

    Seeking advice: Situation; My 57 yr old brother has declining MS and his wife had a brain aneurysm four yrs, ago. Both their illnesses have brought them to a point of needing some type of care beyond what family can assist with anymore. We desperately need direction where to start , information, contacts , organizations that will give our family counsel as to available options in the Denver area. Thanking you in advance.

  • Jen

    Hi Holly—

    I am sorry about your current situation. The first place I would start, since I do not know the local Denver area, would be the National MS Society’s Denver chapter: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Chapters?chapters=6560 (scroll down page).

    I hope this is a good starting point for you.

    Jen

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