Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that attacks the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. During an MS attack, there is inflammation of nerve fibers and the myelin sheaths that surround those nerve fibers. The myelin sheaths work like the insulation surrounding an electrical wire, allowing the nerve fibers to transmit information throughout the body. When the myelin sheath is attacked, small areas of tissue become damaged.

These damaged areas are called "lesions". The lesions are effectively gaps over which signals cannot be transmitted, resulting in a wide range of neurological symptoms including loss of sensation and mobility, loss of vision, interference with mental processes, and, in extreme cases, death. Most scientists believe MS is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s own immune system attacks its own tissues, believing them to be foreign.

Multiple Sclerosis affects 2.5 million people around the world and an estimated 400,000 people living in the United States. Because MS is difficult to diagnose and some of its symptoms are undetectable it is truly impossible to know the number of people afflicted with this disease.


Who gets MS?

MS is not contagious, and although it is not directly inherited, genes do play an important role in who gets the disease. MS affects women at least 2 to 3 times as often as it does men. It is most often diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 years. MS is more common among Caucasians of northern European ancestry, though it does occur in most ethnic groups. MS is less common in populations living nearer to the equator, and more common in those living at northern latitudes.




Treatments

There is no cure for multiple sclerosis. Current treatments are targeted towards modifying the course of the disease, managing the symptoms, treating the “flare-ups” or relapses when they occur, and improving the patient’s daily functioning. There are several FDA-approved medications for modifying the course of the disease. These treatments help to slow the disease progression and reduce disease activity .

Symptoms

In the early stages of the disease, there is complete or partial remission of symptoms in approximately 70 percent of MS patients.

Initial symptoms can include:
• Numbness of the extremities or of the face
• Difficulties with walking or balance problems
• Vision problems or eye pain
• Loss of coordination
• Tremors
• Slurred speech
• Difficulty remembering, thinking and reasoning

Additional symptoms may appear as the disease progresses. Because symptoms can be so erratic, they affect not only the patient but also the entire family. Patients are often unable to work during a flare-up, yet they are faced with high medical bills and additional expenses for home modifications and housekeeping assistance.