Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic disease of the central nervous system in which the myelin sheath and nerve axons in certain areas of the brain are destroyed. Research into the etiology of the disease is constantly being conducted, and although it is not certain, it is believed that the T lymphocytes used by the body for immune functions may have an important role in the disease process — it is a possibility that in the future, it will be categorised as both a neurological disease and an autoimmune disease.
The destruction of the myelin sheath, which covers nerve fibres, causes disruptions in nerve impulse conduction that lead to symptoms such as muscular weakness, numbness, visual disturbances and loss of bowel and bladder control. Other symptoms include muscular spasms, rapid involuntary movement of the eyes (nystagmus), fatigue, gait instability, frequent urinary tract infections and mood disturbances.
There are four variations of multiple sclerosis that have been identified:
- benign: several episodes of nervous system dysfunction followed by full recovery
- primary progressive: rapid and permanent loss of neurological functions that causes impairments that worsen over time
- relapsing-remitting one: neurological deficits develop then improve completely
- relapsing-remitting two: neurological deficits develop then improve partially before going into a secondary progression during which gradual accumulation of disabilities occurs
There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis, but some relief might be given by the use of corticosteroids, interferon-α and glatiramer. Symptomatic relief, such as the use of muscle relaxants for spasms, is given as needed.
Patients with multiple sclerosis are advised to avoid overexertion and stressful situations but to follow a plan of daily activities and exercise.
More than 250,000 Americans are affected by multiple sclerosis. It is twice as common in women as in men. The disease is much more common in European Americans than African Americans or Asian Americans. About half of patients with multiple sclerosis cannot work after ten or fifteen years after onset of symptoms, and half of these cannot walk after twenty-five years.
For more information visit the National MS Society MS Connection website: www.msconnections.org