What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system, which includes the brain, the spinal cord and the optic nerves. It interferes with the brain’s ability to control such functions as seeing, walking and talking. Some symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs. They may also be more severe, like being unable to move. It is unpredictable and each person with MS has a unique disease course.
Who is affected by MS?
MS is the most common chronic disease of the central nervous system in young adults. It affects nearly 2 million plus people worldwide and is two to three times as prevalent in women as in men. The incidence of the disease is five times more common in the temperate climates of North America, Europe, and Southern Australia then in tropical regions. Unfortunately, MS tends to strike people when they are between the ages of 20 to 40 years old, while they are in the midst of their career and family building years. This can create difficult career and personal challenges. Although there are unproven theories that MS could be genetic, it is not contagious and is less commonly diagnosed in children or the elderly.
What causes MS?
Although the cause of MS is not fully understood, it is generally thought to be an "auto-immune" disease. With this type of disease, the immune system appears to lose its ability to discriminate and starts to destroy the body’s own tissues. In MS patients, the myelin becomes the particular target of an attack, orchestrated by the body’s own white blood cells. The myelin sheath protects the brain's axons, the core of a nerve, and allows for uninterrupted transmission of nerve impulses.
How does MS affect the body? What are its symptoms?
Minor damage to the myelin sheath can manifest itself in a wide range of symptoms including: degeneration of lesions with variable severity, trouble balancing, bladder/bowel dysfunction, cognitive impairment, emotional changes, fatigue, heat sensitivity, slurred speech, visual disorders, impaired mobility, tremors, facial pain, extremity pain, and vertigo. Many symptoms are worsened by attacks, which vary in duration.
What is the preferred treatment?
As of yet, there is no cure for Multiple Sclerosis, but many people are able to lead healthy, productive lives with the proper treatment. This implies that people are only able to lead healthy, productive lives if they’re on treatment, which isn’t true. It needs to be clear that the first choice is whether or not to choose medical treatment and the second is which one. The good news is that there are several options that are dedicated to slowing down the progression of the disease rather than treating symptoms. Choosing which drug is a personal choice that most people make with their physician based on their lifestyle and heath needs.
The goals of therapy are threefold:
- To improve recovery from attacks
- To reduce the number of relapses and
- To slow down disease progression
In the past, steroids were the principle medications of MS. While steroids cannot affect the course of MS over time, they can reduce the duration and severity of attacks in some patients. The FDA has now approved other drugs.