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Multiple Sclerosis

myelin sheath damage

What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that affects the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.

It is a long-term, life-long disease that typically gets worse with time, although treatments can slow its progression.

More than one million people in the United States are living with MS.

What causes multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) happens because a person’s immune system attacks the covering that wraps around and protects each nerve (this is called the myelin sheath), although experts are still not exactly sure what triggers this.

Without this protective covering, nerves become damaged and inflamed and develop scar tissue (this is called sclerosis). This affects how nerve signals are transmitted and interpreted. In severe disease, nerves may not function at all.

Although MS is not considered a hereditary disease, people can inherit genes that give them a higher risk of developing MS (approximately 200 genes have been identified associated with MS).

Smokers are also more likely to develop MS than nonsmokers, and research suggests that some incidences of MS may be triggered by a viral infection, such as the Epstein Barr virus or human herpes virus 6. MS is more common in countries furthest away from the equator.

What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Symptoms differ among people with the disease but generally include:

  • Balance problems
  • Concentration and focusing problems
  • Fatigue
  • Movement difficulties
  • Muscle weakness or spasms
  • Pain
  • Poor bladder or bowel control
  • Vision difficulties (blurred or double vision)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) can affect anyone; however, women are up to 3 times more likely to get it than men.

The first symptoms generally happen between the ages of 20 and 40. Some people with mild MS may not need treatment whereas others will have trouble getting around and doing daily tasks. Most people with MS have attacks of symptoms followed by a period of recovery when symptoms improve. In others, the condition gradually progresses with time.

How is multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosed?

If you are experiencing any symptoms suggestive of multiple sclerosis (MS), make an appointment with your doctor. It is not easy to diagnose MS because there is not one specific symptom, physical finding or laboratory test that can prove someone has MS.

Your doctor will examine you and test your reflexes as well as take a thorough medical history. Various other tests will be ordered, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of your brain and spinal cord, an evaluation of your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and certain blood tests.

How is multiple sclerosis (MS) treated?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) does not yet have a cure, and nerve damage is not reversible. The good news is that early treatment can:

  • help delay flare-ups
  • slow deterioration in the nervous system
  • boost quality of life

There are many different treatment options for MS patients.

Anti-inflammatory agents like prednisone are often used for acute flares in MS to lower nerve inflammation.

There are also several types of beta-interferon preparations, which can help delay flare-ups. Many new treatments have also come onto the market in the last decade. Talk to your doctor about what treatment is best for you.