A disease which affects the brain and the spinal cord, multiple sclerosis leads to the loss of sensation, balance, and vision along with muscle control. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder wherein a person’s spinal cord and brain are damaged by their immune system.
In this disease, the nerves of the central nervous system begin to degenerate very slowly. Besides the permanent damage to the nerves of the brain and the spinal cord, multiple sclerosis interferes with any activity which is managed by the nervous system like walking, writing and talking. This disease mostly affects people of Caucasian descent and those who are in the age group of 20 to 50. In fact over 3, 50,000 people are diagnosed with this autoimmune disorder every year in the United States. The chances of women suffering from multiple sclerosis are higher than that of men.
Why is Multiple Sclerosis Called an Autoimmune Disorder?
A disease is normally called an autoimmune disorder if the body’s immune system attacks healthy body tissues instead of destroying diseases causing bacteria and viruses. As the nerves of the brain and the spinal cord are attacked by the body’s immune system, the condition called multiple sclerosis is often described as an autoimmune disorder. Besides multiple sclerosis, other examples of auto immune disorders include rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
This disease got its unique name because of the formation of scar tissue, called sclerosis, in the spinal cord and the brain. The nerves are covered by an insulating and protective sheath called myelin. When this protective sheath is destroyed in a process called demyelination, scar tissues are formed in its place. The nerves which have lost the protective myelin sheath are unable to conduct signals which in turns cause impairment in cognition, movement and sensation. Other demyelinating diseases which affect the central nervous system include optic neuritis and Devic’s disease among others.
Even after detailed research spanning over a period of almost twenty years, researchers are yet to pinpoint the exact cause of multiple sclerosis. One theory about the possible cause of multiple sclerosis which has been doing the rounds of the scientific circles for the past couple of years is that the immune system is altered or affected by a particular strain of virus which in turns causes the body’s immune system to attack the myelin sheath. There are a group of researchers who believe that genetics is responsible for multiple sclerosis. Further detailed research will be required to unearth the exact cause of multiple sclerosis.
Genetics and Multiple Sclerosis
The reason why some researchers believe that genetics plays an important role in determining who is likely to suffer from multiple sclerosis is because the chances of getting this disease are next to nil in some groups of people like Eskimos, African Bantus’ and European Gypsies.
Similarly the chances of suffering from MS or multiple sclerosis; is very low among people of Asian descent and among the Native Americans of North and South America. People who have a family history of multiple sclerosis have a greater chance of suffering from this disease. Environment or genetics, the true culprit behind multiple sclerosis is yet to be discovered.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
Depending on the clinical signs, the common types of multiple sclerosis are relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, primary progressive multiple sclerosis, secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. The most common type of multiple sclerosis is relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Nearly eighty percent of people, who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, begin with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis.
In relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, a person may experience a continuous series of attacks. This is followed by periods of remission where the symptoms completely disappear. In this type of multiple sclerosis, the period between two attacks can vary from a few weeks to several decades.
If a person who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis experiences a gradual but continuous decline in their physical abilities right from the beginning, then that person is said to be suffering from primary progressive multiple sclerosis. Almost twenty percent of all individuals diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, suffer from this type of multiple sclerosis. In secondary progressive multiple sclerosis a person may not get frequent relapses, but suffers from increasing disabilities.
Early Symptoms Of Multiple Sclerosis
A person with multiple sclerosis may two or more distinct symptoms which can help in the diagnosis process. Some of the common and early symptoms associated with this autoimmune disorder include loss of balance and frequent falls, an increasing feeling of numbness and tingling sensation in the extremities, weakness in the limbs and also double vision or blurred vision. Some of the other visual disturbances associated with this condition include color de-saturation and loss of vision in one eye.
Gradual Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Some of the other symptoms of multiple sclerosis, which are less frequently noticed, include lack of co-ordination, sudden paralysis, difficulties in cognition and slurred speech. Fatigue is commonly noticed in people with multiple sclerosis, especially as the condition progresses. The physical fatigue is in no way related to the amount of work an individual does. In fact some people with multiple sclerosis complain of extreme fatigue even after getting a good night’s sleep. Mostly people with this condition experience fatigue around mid afternoon.
People with multiple sclerosis exhibit extreme heat sensitivity. In fact the other symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis are aggravated after a person is exposed to heat for an extended period of time. Dizziness and loss of balance are the other symptoms which are frequently noticed in multiple sclerosis patients. These people also experience frequent muscle spasms. Some of the other symptoms of multiple sclerosis include frequent tremors, difficulty in swallowing and difficulty in concentrating. In extremely rare cases people with multiple sclerosis may suffer from frequent seizures and have difficulty in breathing.
Multiple Sclerosis Treatment
Different types of drugs are prescribed to control this nervous system disorder called multiple sclerosis. Some of the common drugs given to patients with multiple sclerosis include Betaseron, Avonex, Tysabri, Novantrone, Copaxone, Rebif and Gilenya.
The reason why these particular drugs are prescribed to multiple sclerosis patients are to bring down the number of attacks associated with this condition, to help a person recover faster from multiple sclerosis and to reduce the speed at which the condition progresses. People with multiple sclerosis need to eat a balanced diet, should follow a proper exercise routine and should avoid stressful situations as much as possible.