Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s own immune system attacks the body, damaging the myelin sheath, the protective layer that covers the nerves that carry signals between the brain and spinal cord and the rest of the body. Because of this, it causes a break in communication between the brain and the rest of the body, ultimately destroying the nerves themselves, and causing irreversible damage.
The cause of MS is unknown, though scientists believe that a combination of immunologic, environmental, infectious, and genetic factors may be involved. MS is normally diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40, and affects almost twice as many women as men.
While MS develops and manifests differently in each person, there are four general types of MS:
- Relapsing-Remitting MS – Relapsing-remitting MS is the most common type of MS. People with this type of MS experience clearly defined attacks of worsening neurologic function. These attacks, which are called relapses or flare-ups, are followed by partial or complete recovery periods (remissions).
- Secondary-Progressive MS – Following an initial period of relapsing-remitting MS, many people develop secondary-progressive MS in which the disease worsens more steadily, with or without occasional flare-ups, minor recoveries (remissions), or plateaus.
- Primary-Progressive MS – With this type of MS, neurologic function slowly worsens. There are no distinct relapses or remissions.
- Progressive-Relapsing MS – In this relatively rare course of MS, people experience steadily worsening disease from the beginning, but with clear attacks of worsening neurologic function along the way. They may or may not experience some recovery following these relapses, but the disease continues to progress without remissions.
Janaan, Multiple Sclerosis
Everyone experiences MS differently. MS is sometimes called the "snowflake disease" because no one person's experience is exactly like another's. For most people, symptoms go away and come back as they experience relapses and partial or complete recovery periods.
Some of the more common early-stage symptoms include:
- Vision changes
- Tingling or numbness in arms or legs
- Loss of coordination or balance
- Muscle weakness
- Cognitive dysfunction with memory, focus, and problem-solving abilities
MS is an unpredictable disease. There is no single symptom or test that can properly diagnose MS. Typically, the patient and treating physician will discuss the patient’s clinical history and symptoms, and the doctor will conduct an MRI to look for lesions or plaques in the central nervous system. However, additional tests are often required to confirm the diagnosis.
Consult your doctor if you believe you or someone you know has exhibited symptoms of MS.