Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
World Health Organization
Edited by Nicole Day, MS, MBA
Guyana Journal, March 2009
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, potentially debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves (the nerves that carry sight to the eyes). The body's immune system destroys the protective sheath (cover) overlying the nerves, interfering with the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Ultimately, this may result in irreversible damage to the nerves. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.
Who gets MS?
An estimated 400,000 Americans have MS. Although it can occur at any age, it most often begins in people between the ages of 20 and 40. Women are more likely to develop MS than men. Studies indicate that some genetic factors make certain individuals more likely to develop the disease, but there is no evidence that MS is directly inherited.
What Causes MS?
The body’s own immune system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. The nerve fibers themselves can also be damaged. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing the variety of symptoms.
While the cause of MS is still not known, scientists believe that a combination of several factors may be involved including the immune system, the environment, infectious diseases and genetics. Understanding what causes MS will be an important step toward finding more effective ways to treat, cure, or even prevent it from occurring in the first place.
What are the Symptoms of MS?
The symptoms of MS may include tingling, fatigue, numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, and blurred or double vision. Some people experience slurred speech, poor balance, poor coordination, muscle tightness or spasticity (including prolonged muscle contractions or sudden movements), tremors, or paralysis, which may be temporary or permanent. MS can cause impaired thinking, forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating. It can also cause mood swings and may make people more likely to become depressed. Symptoms may come and go, appear in any combination, and be mild, moderate, or severe.
What is the progression of MS?
People with MS can typically experience one of four disease courses, or patterns of progression. The disease subtype is important not only for determining the patient’s possible outcome but also for therapeutic decisions.
In this relatively rare course of MS (5%), people experience steadily worsening disease from the onset, with attacks of progressively worsening of neurologic function. They may or may not experience some recovery following these relapses, but the disease continues to progress without remissions.
Nicole Day is a Senior Content Development Specialist in Horsham, PA.