Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another. Today, new treatments and advances in research are giving new hope to people affected by the disease.
MS is Thought to be an Autoimmune Disease
The body’s own defense system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system. The nerve fibers themselves can also be damaged. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing the variety of symptoms that can occur. Most people with MS learn to cope with the disease and continue to lead satisfying, productive lives.
The Four Types of MS
Since no two people have exactly the same experience of MS, the disease course may look very different from one person to another. And, it may not always be clear to the physician—at least right away—which course a person is experiencing.
Some Important Facts
- MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.
- Different people are likely to experience very different symptoms.
- MS is different from muscular dystrophy (MD), which is a group of disorders that cause progressive and irreversible wasting away of muscle tissue. Although MD has some symptoms in common with MS—such as weakness and problems with walking—MD affects the muscles directly while MS affects the central nervous system.
- MS is not contagious and is not directly inherited (.pdf).
- Most people with MS have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.
- The majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled.
- There are now FDA-approved medications that have been shown to reduce the number of relapses and "modify" or slow down the underlying course of MS.
- People who are diagnosed with a clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) have had one episode of neurologic damage that is similar to the damage that occurs in MS, but they have not yet met the criteria for a definite diagnosis of MS.
The above information was obtained from The National Multiple Sclerosis Society. For more information please go to their website.