What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system, which interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and the body. the disease is thought to be triggered by a genetically susceptible individual by a combination of one or more environmental factors.
Although MS is thought by some scientists to be an autoimmune disease, others disagree because the specific target of the immune attack in MS has not yet been identified. For this reason, MS is referred to as an immune mediated disease.
Who gets MS?
Anyone may develop MS but there are some patters. Three times more women than men have been diagnosed with MS. Most people are diagnosed between 20 and 50, although children under the age of 18 also live with MS, and people as old as 75 have developed it.
Studies suggest that genetic factors may make certain individuals more susceptible than others, but there is no evidence that MS is directly inherited. MS occurs in most ethnic groups, but is far more common in Caucasians of northern European ancestry.
How many people have MS?
An estimated 2.5 million people live with MS worldwide. These numbers can only be estimated – in the absence of formally reported data – because MS disease activity can occur without a person being aware of it and symptoms may be completely invisible.
What are the typical symptoms of MS?
MS can cause extreme fatigue, impaired vision, problems with balance and walking, numbness or pain and other sensory changes, bladder and bowel symptoms, tremors, problems with memory and concentration, mood changes and more. Symptoms of MS are unpredictable; they can vary from person to person, and from time to time in the same person.
For example: one person may experience abnormal fatigue and episodes of numbness and tingling, while another could experience loss of balance and muscle coordination making walking difficult. Still another could experience slurred speech, tremors, stiffness and bladder problems. These problems may be permanent or may come and go.
Major symptoms that might include partial or complete paralysis and difficulties with vision, cognition, speech and bowel and bladder function.
What causes the symptoms?
MS symptoms result when an immune system attack affects myelin, the protective insulation surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system. Myelin is often compared to insulating material around an electrical wire; loss of myelin interferes with the transmission of nerve signals.
Myelin is destroyed and replaced by scars of hardened “sclerotic” tissue. Some underlying nerve fibres are permanently damaged or severed as well. The damage appears in multiple places within the central nervous system, giving the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fibre is damaged, nerve impulses travelling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing the variety of symptoms that can occur.
IS MS fatal?
Most people with MS have a normal or near normal life expectancy. In fairly fare cases, complications of MS can shorten life, including infections of various kinds. However, many of these complications are preventable or manageable. Very rare instances of MS that progress rapidly from disease onset can be terminal.
Does MS always cause paralysis?
No. The majority of people with MS do not become severely physically disabled, although the unpredictability of the disease can present many challenges, including the possibility of facing increasing limitations.
Two thirds of people with MS remain able to walk, though many will need an aid, such as a cane or crutches, and some will use a scooter or wheelchair because of fatigue, weakness, balance problems, or to help conserve energy.
Is MS contagious or inherited?
No. MS is not contagious and is not directly inherited. Studies do indicate that genetic factors may make certain individuals susceptible to the disease.
What can be done about MS now?
There is much one can do to manage the disease and the symptoms it can cause. A number of medications that have been shown to “modify” or slow the course of MS are available. In addition, many therapeutic and technological options are helping people manage their symptoms.
Advances are made every year in treating and managing MS to stop disease progression and restore lost function.
Why is MS so difficult to diagnose?
In early MS, symptoms that might indicate any number of possible disorders can come and go. Some people have symptoms that are very difficult for physicians to interpret, so they must often “wait and see.” While no single laboratory test is yet available to prove or rule out MS, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a great help in reaching a definitive diagnosis.