What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple scleroris (MS) is a chronic disease affecting the central nervous system. It is an unpredictable condition that can be relatively benign, disabling or devastating. Some individuals with MS may be mildly affected while others may lose their ability to write, speak, or walk - when communication between the brain and other parts of the body becomes disrupted.
In individuals with MS, the immune system attacks and causes an inflammatory reaction at various sites within the brain and spinal cord where nerve fibers are insulated from each other by myelin. It damages the myelin sheath, the material that surrounds and protects your nerve cells. This damage slows down or blocks messages between the brain and your body, leading to the symptoms of MS.
When the inflammatory reaction subsides in a person with MS, there is usually a scar (sclerosis) as evidence of the healing. The name of the disease - multiple sclerosis - comes from this pattern of multiple scarring.
MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune system becomes confused. A normal immune system attacks foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses or even cancer cells. In MS, the immune system attacks myelin. With autoimmune diseases, the immune system incorrectly attacks healthy tissues. In addition to MS, there are a variety of autoimmune diseases, including Crohn's disease, lupus, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The symptoms of MS are determined by the function of the part of the nervous system that is inflamed. Because the nervous system has so many functions, MS can cause many different types of symptoms, including:
- Sensory issues - Loss of the ability to sense vibration, temperature, pain, touch or position. Loss of sensibility in joints. Experience of dizziness, numbness, irritating sensations or electrical sensations.
- Visual problems - Jerky eyes, double vision, loss of color vision, blurred or dimmed vision and blindness.
- Slurred speech
- Motor problems - Weakness of the body, clumsiness, tremors, spasticity or paralysis.
- Bowel/Bladder issues: Urgency, greater frequency, incontinence, retention or constipation.
Many with MS experience remissions, flare-ups and improvements throughout their history with the disease. Scattered areas of the nervous system are often diseased.
While the cause of MS has not been determined conclusively, many medical researchers believe that a virus may initiate the confusion of the immune system. Researchers continue to search for the cause.
Environment may also be a factor in the cause of MS. The disease occurs more frequently in populations that live further from the equator (north or south) than among those that live close to the equator. The location of a person’s first 15 years of life seems to be an indicator of his or her likelihood of getting the disease. Although no clear hereditary link has been identified, there is some increased risk for individuals with a family history of the disease.