Multiple Sclerosis – An Overview Of This Debilitating Condition

February 21, 2008 by  

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By Steve Dempster

You may have heard about the disease normally known as Multiple Sclerosis – but what is it and what causes it?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting the central nervous system. First described by Jean-Martin Charcot in 1868, MS (formerly known as disseminated sclerosis) is more common in women than in men and typically affects – depending on country and actual population – between 2 and 150 people per 100,000. The disease usually has its onset in early adulthood.

The disease affects the ‘white matter’ of the brain. Cells in white matter – present in the brain and spinal cord – carry signals for processing to ‘grey matter’ areas and also between these areas and the rest of the body. MS affects the neurons in the white matter – specifically destroying the cells known as ‘oligodendrocytes’ that are cells responsible for creating the ‘myelin sheath’ – a fatty layer that assists the neurons in the carrying of electrical signals.

The effect of the disease thins or destroys the myelin, though it can also cut the neuron’s extensions or ‘axons’. With loss of the myelin, the neurons cannot continue to effectively transmit their electrical signals, giving rise to the symptoms of the disease. The name ‘Multiple Sclerosis’ actually refers to plaques or lesions in the white matter – also called scleroses (scars). The loss of myelin in scarred regions cause some of the symptoms of the disease, which vary widely depending on just which signals are interrupted or lost.

MS appears in several forms, including progressive (accumulative) and relapsing (discrete) forms. Symptoms may disappear completely between attacks but permanent neurological issues tend to persist, particularly as the disease advances.

The cause of MS is unknown, despite much being known about the actual way the disease works upon the human body. The general opinion is that it is caused by attacks by the immune system upon the body’s own nervous system. Other theories claim that it is metabolically dependent whilst still others cite a virus as the cause. Still others claim that, as MS is almost unknown in tropical regions it may be caused by a lack of vitamin D in childhood.

Sadly, there is no cure -yet! – for Multiple Sclerosis and treatments tend to focus on returning function and mobility after an attack, the prevention of further attacks and the avoidance of disability. Many patients pursue ‘alternative medicine’ remedies, despite there being little evidence of effectiveness.

The expected course of the disease (prognosis) depends on exactly which type of the disease is present, initial symptoms, individual characteristics and degrees of disability experienced or likely to be tolerated by the sufferer. The life expectancy of people with MS is, however, virtually identical with healthy, unaffected people and in many cases a near-normal life is possible.

If for any reason you suspect that you may be affected by Multiple Sclerosis, a visit to your doctor or specialist is of paramount importance – if indeed you do have this illness, early diagnosis is immensely important to your future well-being.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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