What is Multiple Sclerosis?
This is a question I get quite often.
Multiple Sclerosis is both an autoimmune disorder and a chronic neurologic disease
An Autoimmune disease means that a person’s immune system is out of whack. The body’s immune system usually protects you from disease and infections; if someone has an autoimmune disease their immune system actually attacks the healthy cells in their body.
When someone has MS they have a malfunction of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord) caused by damage to the protective covering of their nerve fibres. This protective covering is called myelin and it is similar to the insulation on an electrical wire. Where the myelin is damaged scar tissue forms, this is called sclerosis, with MS this damage takes place in several varied locations throughout the nerve fibres (multiple locations) hence the name Multiple Sclerosis. The damaged myelin causes a disruption of the impulses being sent along the nerve fibres. It is this disruption of impulses thought the Nerve fibres to the brain that lead to the varied symptoms of MS. Damaged myelin can regenerate itself but with MS it cannot generate effectively or quickly enough.
There are 4 different types of MS.
The most common is called RELAPSING – REMITTING which involves clearly defined attacks of worsening neurologic function These attacks—which are called relapse are followed by partial or complete recovery periods (remissions)
PRIMARY – PROGRESSIVE characterized by slowly worsening neurologic function from the beginning—with no distinct relapses or remissions, occasional plateaus and temporary minor improvements.
SECONDARY – PROGRESSIVE after an initial period of relapsing-remitting MS, many people develop this secondary-progressive disease course in which the disease worsens more steadily, with or without occasional flare-ups, minor recoveries (remissions), or plateaus. Before the disease-modifying medications became available, approximately 50% of people with relapsing-remitting MS developed this form of the disease within 10 years
PROGRESSIVE – RELAPSING, this is a relatively rare course of MS. Some people experience steadily worsening disease from the beginning, but with clear attacks of worsening neurologic function along the way. They may or may not experience any recovery following these relapses, and the disease continues to progress without remissions.
Symptoms vary greatly from one person to another but some of the common symptoms are: Loss of vision, blurred vision, stiffness, weakness, imbalance, numbness etc.
Corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation, and interferons may be used to delay the worsening of MS symptoms. Glatiramer blocks destructive attacks by the body’s immune system on the nervous system.
Physical or occupational therapists may teach patients strengthening and stretching exercises to help them with their daily activities.
MS patients may experience some relief from their symptoms if they get enough rest, avoid extreme heat and get regular aerobic exercise.