Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disorder affecting the brain and spinal cord. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, an MS support group website, the disease is unpredictable and disabling. Most people are diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 50, and women are affected twice as often as men. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says 400,000 people live with the disease in the United States.
The Mayo Clinic says the severity of MS depends on the nerves affected, and symptoms may include numbness or weakness in one or more extremities, partial or complete vision loss, blurred or double vision, tingling or pain, electric shock sensations with head movements, tremors, decreased coordination, fatigue and dizziness. According to the Mayo Clinic, initially, most MS sufferers experience cycles of remission and relapse. Symptoms may increase with a rise in body temperature.
The Mayo Clinic says the body’s own immune system eats away at the protective covering around the nerves. When this covering, called myelin, is damaged, scar tissue is formed. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, this scar tissue causes hardened areas called plaque. Plaque on the nerve tissue disrupts the body’s electrical transmission of signals, causing a decrease in motor and neurological functioning.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following factors may increase the risk of developing MS: being female; being between the ages of 20 and 40; being white, of northern European descent; having a family history of MS; having a history of certain infections, especially the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis; living in temperate climates such as Europe, Southern Canada, the Northern United States, New Zealand and Southwestern Australia; and having a history of other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.
The Mayo Clinic says people with MS have a tendency to develop stiff muscles or muscle spasms; paralysis of the legs; bowel, bladder and sexual dysfunction; forgetfulness; depression; and seizures.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says MS is difficult to diagnosis due to the vague symptoms present in the early stages of the disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, in an attempt to diagnosis MS, a health care provider may perform blood tests, a spinal tap, MRI and an evoked potential test, which measures electrical impulses sent by the brain.
According to Mayo Clinic, there is no cure for MS. Treatment is aimed at controlling negative symptoms and may include medications, physical and occupational therapy, and procedures such as plasma exchanges, which attempt to decrease the number of antibodies causing nerve destruction.
Types of MS
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says different forms of MS exist. Each type is characterized by the amount of remission the patient receives and how steady the symptoms progress. The types are listed as relapsing-remitting, primary-progressive, secondary-progressive and progressive-relapsing.
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