First recognized and described in 1868 by a French neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology named Jean-Martin Charcot, multiple sclerosis (MS) is also known as disseminated sclerosis or encephalomyelitis disseminata. “Scleroses” are also known as plaques, lesions or scars and the name of the disease “multiple scleroses” denotes the “many scars” in the white matter of the brain and the spinal cord, which is predominantly made up of myelin. And myelin is the insulation wrapping around axons which are long fibers through which communication passes between nerve cells.
Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating disease and one of the known autoimmune conditions whereby the body’s immune system attacks its own central nervous system in the brain and the spinal cord. MS ultimately damages the myelin sheath of neurons (demyelination) and weakens the signals of the affected nerves. Therefore, interferences occur in the communication between the brain and other parts of the body which causes a breakdown of sensations, movements, cognition or other normal functions that would be affected by the specific nerves which are involved.
Symptoms of MS
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis depend on the level of damage caused by the disease and on which nerves were affected. In addition, the symptoms are often inconsistent as they may at times disappear (remission) for months at a time only to reappear (relapse) unexpectedly and they tend to worsen with increased body temperatures. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Numbness or loss of sensation in one limb or one half of the body at a time.
- Double vision or unclear and blurry vision.
- Limited or total blindness in one eye at a time. This symptom is usually accompanied by pain during movement of the affected eye (optic neuritis).
- Tremble or tremor and a loss of coordination and a wobbly walk.
- Sensations of electric shock brought about by certain movements of the head.
- Tingling or pain in certain parts of the body.
- General weakness, fatigue and dizziness.
Causes and Risks of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is known to be a progressive disease, the damage that it causes to the nerves is irreversible, it usually appears in young adults, women are more prone to get it than men and it occurs in two to one hundred and fifty people out of 100,000. The causes of multiple sclerosis are yet unknown, although some theories allude to genetics, others to infections and still others to environmental risk factors.
Statistically, the following are the known risk factors:
- Age. Multiple sclerosis can appear at any age but it most often appears in people between the ages of twenty and forty.
- Gender. MS appears approximately twice as often in women as they do in men.
- Family History or Heredity. The risk for developing multiple sclerosis increases for people who have close family members who have had the disease.
- Viral Infections. Some scientists believe that the Epstein-Bar virus may increase the risk of developing MS.
- Race. Caucasians originating from northern Europe have a much higher risk for developing multiple sclerosis than Asians, Africans or Native Americans.
- Geographical Factors. The risk for MS tends to increase at higher latitudes.
- Other Diseases. Those people who are suffering of thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes and the inflammatory bowel disease are at greater risk for also developing MS.
Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis
Since there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, treatments are focused on management of its various symptoms:
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
- Interferons to slow the progression of the disease
- Glatiramer to block the immune system from continually attacking the myelin.
- Natalizumab to prevent the movement of immune cells from entering the bloodstream on their way to the brain and spinal cord.
- Mitoxantrone to suppress the attacks of the immune system.
- Physical and occupational therapies to stretch and strengthen muscles.
- Plasma exchange.