What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis, often called MS, is a disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS): the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves

MS causes damage to the myelin, the protective coating of the nerves. This damage creates lesions or “scars” that can be seen on the brain and spinal cord.

 

The process of developing lesions is called “sclerosis”. So, MS actually means “many scars”.

MS Myelin

Without the myelin, the brain and spinal cord cannot communicate with the nerves in the rest of the body. This damage causes muscle weakness, loss of muscle control, vision, balance, feeling and thinking.

MS is different for each person. Some people are diagnosed and never have another symptom, some people become seriously disabled. Most people are somewhere in between.

Generally, MS follows one of 5 courses:

Benign MS

This is a sub-group of relapsing/remitting. It is used to describe the disease in people who have had MS for fifteen or more years without any more symptoms. The person with the benign type of MS can expect minor or no progression at all after the first attack. However, calling a case of MS benign is very misleading because overtime, short term memory disturbances, cognitive dysfunction and some clear evidence of spinal cord or brain atrophy, can all be identified via an MRI scan. [Hawkins and McDonnell, 1999].

In fact, in the twenty percent who are given an initial diagnosis of benign MS, only five percent end up actually having the benign type.

Relapsing – Remitting

This is the most common. Symptoms fade and then return off and on for many years. It is during this type that those who have MS experience attacks, otherwise called exacerbations that are followed with either a complete or a partial remission. This is where its classification is misleading.

Multiple sclerotic people oftentimes assume that this remission phase means they have fully recovered. This can be true in some special cases, especially during the first phases of the disorder, but in most cases, this remission is actually just a partial one. Do not be misled by this classification’s name because what are usually left are permanent residual MS-related symptoms.

Secondary – Progressive

This type starts with the relapsing – remitting which usually persists for several years. After that timeframe, it becomes secondary – progressive, progressive meaning steadily getting worse.
It is a chronic and progressive form of the disease that usually occurs in the disease’s second stages. Unlike relapsing – remitting, there are no true periods of remission, but only some breaks in the duration of attacks that has no absolute recovery from the symptoms. Although there could be some minor relief for a couple of symptoms, full recovery is never attained.

Progressive – Relapsing

This is a rare form of MS. The disease has a progressive form that starts from its outset with a series of acute attacks that has no relief from the obtained symptoms. Unlike the primary – progressive type, this type has no tendency to plateau.

Primary – Progressive

This is very common in the male population. It is when the person with MS gradually experiences a clinical decline and has no true durations of remission. However, there could be a temporary time where the disorder seems to plateau or level out, including a partial but minor relief from a few symptoms. But still, the whole course of this type continuously declines starting from the disease’s outset.

There is no cure for MS yet, but whatever your symptoms are, treatment and self-care help you maintain your quality of life.

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