WHAT IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS)
Multiple Sclerosis (commonly known as “MS”) is a progressive disease of the central nervous system for which there is no cure. It is the most common disabling neurological disease among young adults. The protective myelin covering of the nerve fibers in the central nervous system of the body is damaged in MS patients. Inflammation and ultimate loss of myelin causes disruption to nerve transmission and affects the body functions.
MS is most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40. Women are almost twice as likely as men to develop MS, and in rare cases it affects children. Once diagnosed, MS stays with the person for life, but treatments and specialist care can help people to manage many symptoms well. Although its cause is not known and a cure has yet to be identified, research continues. It is not contagious. This is a disease where patients have to live with it on a daily basis for the rest of their lives.
As the central nervous system links all bodily activities, many different symptoms can appear in MS. There are a wide range of symptoms some of which are fatigue, visual disturbances and loss of sight, loss of balance and coordination which could result in inability to walk, vertigo, muscle stiffness and spasms, numbness, pain, abnormal speech and difficulty in swallowing, bladder and bowel control problems and cognitive and emotional disturbances.
The central nervous system which consists of the brain and spinal chord sends messages from the brain and spinal cord to various parts of our body by means of nerve fibres. The nerve fibres convey information between the nerve cells by electronic impulses. These nerve fibres are surrounded and protected by a substance called “MYELIN” which helps these messages to travel quickly and smoothly. In MS this Myelin sheath is affected and the messages travelling along these nerve fibres are disrupted. Hence the messages can get slowed down, become distorted or not get through at all. In MS the immune system which normally helps to fight off infection, mistakes its own tissue for a foreign body and attacks it. Thus causing demyelination of the nerve fibres.
There is no drug that can cure MS but treatment is now available which can modify the course of the disease, thereby slowing down its progression.
Types of MS
In this type of MS, new symptoms may appear or the existing symptoms may become more sever suddenly. These attacks are known as Relapses. They could last from days to months, after which there could be a partial or total recovery (remissions). Thereafter the disease may not surface again for several months or even years. Most people with MS are initially diagnosed with this type of MS.
Primary progressive MS
In this type, there is no distict attack, but the symptoms appear slowly and steadily worsen. Disability builds up and then levels off at a particular point or it could even continue for many months and even years. About 10% of people with MS are diagnosed with this type.
Secondary progressive MS
Those who have relapsing remitting MS may develop this type of MS with progressive disability during the course of the disease. It could occur with relapses and there usually is no definite periods of remission.
Progressive relapsing MS
Here people with MS will show a steady decline with clear attacks. The disease will continue to progress without remission although there may be some recovery following these relapses. This is the least common type and only about 5% get this type of MS.
Pediatric (childhood) MS
In some rare cases, children could also get MS. They have different characteristics to adult with MS. And there is no effective treatment or therapies for childhood MS as yet.
Source : MS International Federation
Many different symptoms could appear depending on which part of the nervous system is affected. Some of the common symptoms are:
- An overwhelming sense of tiredness.
- Balance problems: walking difficulties, problems with co-ordination.
- Visual problems: blurred or double vision, temporary loss of sight in one eye or both.
- Numbness or tingling: commonly in the hands or feet.
- Pain: sometimes mild, sometimes severe.
- Loss of muscle strength and dexterity.
- Stiffness and spasms: tightening or rigidity in particular muscle groups.
- Anxiety, depression or mood swings.
- Difficulty with memory and concentration.
- Speech problems: slurring, slowing of speech, or changes in pitch or tone.
- A lack of control over bladder or bowel functions.
- Sexual problems: lack of libido, erectile difficulties.