Understanding the Facts on Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis, often just called MS, is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the central nervous system. This condition is more common in women and onset generally occurs in early adulthood. MS can cause many mental and physical symptoms that can progress to physical and cognitive disabilities.
MS affects the areas of the brain and spiral cord that are known as the white matter. Cells in the white matter carry signals between the gray matter areas and the rest of the body. Multiple sclerosis destroys the cells responsible for creating and maintaining a fatty layer known as the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath helps neurons carry electrical signals. MS results in the thinning or complete loss of this sheath, which stops the neurons from properly conducting their electrical signals.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis has many signs and symptoms. These symptoms can occur as episodic attacks or slowly accumulate over time. Symptoms can include muscle weakness, muscle spasms, difficulty moving, problems with balance and coordination, visual problems, chronic fatigue or pain syndromes, bowel difficulties or problems with speech and swallowing. Initial attacks can be quite mild and limited. Most individuals will not seek medical attention until symptoms have increased.
Causes of Multiple Sclerosis
There is no definitive cause for MS, but there are many risk factors. MS most likely occurs as a result of combined environmental and genetic factors. Environmentally, multiple sclerosis is more common in people who live further from the equator. Some people beleive that decreased sun exposure and vitamin D production maybe help cause MS. Other environmental theories include that MS is less likely in children with siblings, suggesting that less exposure to illness in childhood leads to a weakened immune system.
Although MS is not a considered a hereditary disease, there is evidence that shows genetics might play a role in determining an individual’s susceptibility. Another common theory is that multiple sclerosis is a viral infection that reactivates when the immune system is highly susceptible.
Multiple Sclerosis Treatment
There is no cure yet for multiple sclerosis. There are several proven therapies that aim at returning function after an attack, preventing new attacks, and preventing disability. To manage acute attacks, high doses of corticosteroids are often administered. This treatment is aimed at ending an attack sooner leaving fewer lasting defects. There are also disease-modifying treatments available. These treatments help to slow the progression of MS. There are six different types of medications that are considered to be disease-modifying treatments. Alternative treatments are also available. Examples include herbal medicine, tai chi, yoga, and dietary regimens.
If you’ve been diagnosed with MS, please know that you are not alone. Find local support groups and connect with others who are also living with multiple sclerosis.