Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease and affects the central nervous system. Central nervous system is made up of nerves that act as the body’s messenger system. It damages the myelin sheath, the material that surrounds and protects your nerve cells. This damage slows down or blocks messages between your brain and your body. Multiple sclerosis (MS) usually affects woman more than men. The disorder most commonly begins between ages 20 and 40, but can strike at any age. Multiple sclerosis affects neurons, the cells of the brain and spinal cord that carry information, create thought and perception, and allow the brain to control the body. Surrounding and protecting some of these neurons is a fatty layer known as the myelin sheath, which helps neurons carry electrical signals. MS causes gradual destruction of myelin (demyelination) and transection of neuron axons in patches throughout the brain and spinal cord. The name multiple sclerosis refers to the multiple scars (or scleroses) on the myelin sheaths. This scarring causes symptoms which vary widely depending upon which signals are interrupted. Multiple sclerosis may take several different forms, with new symptoms occurring either in discrete attacks or slowly accruing over time. Between attacks, symptoms may resolve completely, but permanent neurologic problems often persist, especially as the disease advances. MS currently does not have a cure, though several treatments are available that may slow the appearance of new symptoms. MS is believed to result from damage to the myelin sheath, the protective material which surrounds nerve cells. It is a progressive disease, meaning the damage gets worse over time. Inflammation destroys the myelin, leaving multiple areas of scar tissue (sclerosis). The inflammation occurs when the body’s own immune cells attack the nervous system.
MS gets its name from the buildup of scar tissue (sclerosis) in the brain and/or spinal cord. Symptoms of MS may mimic many other neurologic disorders. Multiple sclerosis affects an estimated 300,000 people in the United States and probably more than 1 million people around the world. Signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary widely, depending on the location of affected nerve fibers. MS can cause a variety of symptoms, including changes in sensation (hypoesthesia), muscle weakness, abnormal muscle spasms, or difficulty to move; difficulties with coordination and balance (ataxia); problems in speech (Dysarthria) or swallowing (Dysphagia), visual problems (Nystagmus, optic neuritis, or diplopia), fatigue and acute or chronic pain syndromes, bladder and bowel difficulties, cognitive impairment, or emotional symptomatology (mainly depression). Most people with MS also exhibit paresthesias, transitory abnormal sensory feelings such as numbness, prickling, or “pins and needles” sensations. Some may also experience pain. Speech impediments, tremors, and dizziness are other frequent complaints. Occasionally, people with MS have hearing loss. Approximately half of all people with MS experience cognitive impairments such as difficulties with concentration, attention, memory, and poor judgment, but such symptoms are usually mild and are frequently overlooked. Subsequent symptoms also include more prominent upper motor neuron signs, i.e.,. increased spasticity, increasing para- or quardriparesis. Vertigo, incoordination and other cerebellar problems, depression, emotional lability, abnormalities in gait, dysarthria, fatigue and pain are also commonly seen.
Multiple sclerosis is difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Several types of therapy have proven to be helpful for multiple sclerosis. Medications can help ease MS attacks and possibly slow the disease. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms and maintain a normal quality of life. Many patients do well with no therapy at all, especially since many medications have serious side effects and some carry significant risks. Interferon beta-1b (Betaseron) and interferon beta-1a (Avonex, Rebif) are genetically engineered copies of proteins that occur naturally in your body. They help fight viral infection and regulate your immune system. Glatiramer is synthetic medication made of four amino acids that are found in myelin. This drug stimulates T cells in the body’s immune system to change from harmful, pro-inflammatory agents to beneficial, anti-inflammatory agents that work to reduce inflammation at lesion sites. Natalizumab (Tysabri) drug is administered intravenously once a month. It works by blocking the attachment of immune cells to brain blood vessels a necessary step for immune cells to cross into the brain thus reducing the immune cells’ inflammatory action on brain nerve cells. During clinical trials, this drug was shown to significantly reduce the frequency of attacks in people with relapsing MS. Mitoxantrone (Novantrone) is a chemotherapy drug used for many cancers. It’s given intravenously, typically every three months. Muscle relaxants. Baclofen (Lioresal) and tizanidine (Zanaflex) are oral treatments for muscle spasticity. If you have multiple sclerosis, you may experience muscle stiffening or spasms, particularly in your legs, which can be painful and uncontrollable. Baclofen may temporarily increase weakness in your legs. Tizanidine controls muscle spasms without causing your legs to feel weak, but can be associated with drowsiness or a dry mouth.