What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disorder of the central nervous system that can affect the brain and spinal cord. In MS, the immune system attacks nerve fibers and destroys the myelin sheath, a protective insulating layer imperative for the conduction of nerve impulses. This inflammatory process disrupts communication within the central nervous system, and between the central nervous system and other parts of the body.
What symptoms are associated with MS?
Symptoms of MS vary widely, depending on what part of the central nervous system is involved. Some common symptoms include numbness or tingling of the face, body or extremities; impaired coordination or problems with gait; electric shock sensations; vision problems; pain; fatigue; dizziness; weakness, and cognitive difficulties, among others. The onset of new symptoms may develop over a few days or weeks and then improve partially or completely. The course can also be progressive, or secondary progressive. Symptoms will generally worsen over time if left untreated.
How is MS diagnosed?
In diagnosing MS, a physician will rely upon a detailed medical history and clinical examination. Additional testing, including lab testing, lumbar puncture and imaging, will likely be ordered. MRIs can often detect lesions within the brain, optic nerve or spinal cord.
What causes MS?
MS is an autoimmune disease, which occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. There is no one definitive cause that has be identified for MS, but a mix of various genetic and environmental factors have been associated with its development, including infections. While genetic factors may predispose an individual to developing MS, it is believed a trigger is needed to develop the disease.
What treatment is available for MS?
There is no cure for MS. Treatment is focused on aiding recovery from exacerbations of symptoms, slowing the progression of the disease and managing symptoms. Steroid treatments or plasma exchange may be used to help flares of MS symptoms, while disease modifying medications may be prescribed to control the progression of the disease. Physical and occupational therapies, as well as many other therapeutic modalities, can also be beneficial.