Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, progressive, degenerative disorder that affects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. A fatty substance surrounds and insulates nerve fibers and facilitates the conduction of nerve impulse transmissions. In MS, inflammation causes the myelin to degenerate and eventually disappear. Consequently, the electrical impulses that travel along the nerves decelerate. Multiple sclerosis is unpredictable and varies in severity. In some people, multiple sclerosis is a mild illness, but it can lead to permanent disability in others. MS is two to three times as common in females as in males and its occurrence is unusual before adolescence.
About 250,000 to 350,000 people in the U.S. have MS. Usually, a patient is diagnosed with MS between 20 and 40 years of age, but MS has been diagnosed as early as age 15 and as late as age 60.
No one is sure what causes the body’s immune system to go awry. Some scientists believe that it is a combination of genetics and something in the environment to which the person was exposed to early in life. Most researchers consider MS to be an autoimmune disease one in which the body, through its immune system, launches a defensive attack against its own tissues. Immune factors converge in the nerve cells and trigger inflammation and an autoimmune attack on myelin and axons.
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary greatly, from person to person and from time to time in one person, depending on which nerve fibers are demyelinated. High temperatures, such as very warm weather, a hot bath or shower, or a fever, can also trigger relapses or intensify symptoms. In the primary progressive pattern, the disease progresses gradually with no remissions, although there may be temporary plateaus during which the disease does not progress.
The most common symptoms of MS include:
* Problems with walking
* Bowel and or bladder disturbances
* Visual problems
* Changes in cognitive function
* Abnormal sensations such as numbness or “pins and needles”
* Changes in sexual function
Few of the symptoms of MS are unique to the disease and, even if you have one or more of them, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have multiple sclerosis. However, all of these symptoms deserve medical attention and you should see a doctor if you develop any of them.
Today, people with multiple sclerosis do have choices, including the options of injectable therapy and infusion therapy. With the right support system, information and treatment, you can manage your MS successfully.
One monoclonal antibody, natalizumab was shown in clinical trials to significantly reduce the frequency of attacks in people with relapsing forms of MS and was approved for marketing by the U.S.
Spasticity, which can occur either as a sustained stiffness caused by increased muscle tone or as spasms that come and go, is usually treated with muscle relaxants and tranquilizers such as baclofen, tizanidine, diazepam, clonazepam, and dantrolene.