Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease of the brain & spinal cord. MS affects the ability of nerve cells in the brain andspinal cord to communicate with each other. Nerve cells communicate by sending electrical signals down the long fiber axons. The diseases onset may be slow and may produce initial symptoms like tremors, temporary paralysis of limbs, muscle stiffness, numbness or tingling. As the condition advances permanent physical and cognitive disability and eventually invalidity can occur. It is usually diagnosed in young adults and  is more common in women. Per capita the rate of affliction ranges between 2 and 150 per 100,000 people. The disease was first described in 1868 by Jean-Martin Charcot. It is also known as disseminated sclerosis or encephalomyelitis disseminata.

Hardened patches anywhere from pinhead to pea size are scattered throughout the brain and spinal cord. These patches contain neurologia, which are connective tissues. They should only be present enough to bind nerve cells and fibers together but in the case of MS they are random interruptions. Multiple Sclerosis is an inflammatory disease in which the fatty myelin sheaths around the axons of the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This leaves nerve fibers (axons) exposed and leads to scarring.  The name multiple sclerosis refers to scars or scleroses (plaques or lesions) particularly in the white matter of the brain and spinal cord, which is mainly composed of myelin. In MS, the body’s own immune system attacks and damages the myelin. When myelin is lost, the axons can no longer effectively conduct signals.

 MS takes several forms, with new symptoms occurring either in discreet attacks or slowly accumulating over time. In between these attacks, symptoms may go away completely even though permanent neurological problems often occur. There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis. Treatments attempt to return function after an attack, prevent new attacks and disabilities. Medications can have adverse effects or be poorly tolerated by patients. Consequently many patients pursue alternative treatments. Prognosis is difficult because it depends on the subtype of the disease, the individual patient’s unique disease characteristics, initial symptoms and the degree of disability experienced. Life expectancy of patients is only 5 to 10 years lower than that of someone unaffected but of course the quality of that life is a point of concern.

Although much is known about the mechanisms of the disease process, the cause remains unknown. Theories include genetics and infections. Various environmental risk factors have also been found.

 

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