Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that causes the body’s immune system to go after the central nervous system. In other words, it is an autoimmune disease that attacks the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. According to the National MS Society, MS is a chronic, lifelong condition associated with a variety of symptoms ranging from numbness of the limbs to paralysis. Symptoms and severity often vary from person to person.
Four types of MS
The National MS Society
sites four specific courses the disease can take.
- Relapsing-remitting MS – This is the most commonly diagnosed form of MS, affecting over three-quarters of all people who are initially diagnosed. This kind of MS is characterized by relapses (or attacks) that deteriorate neurological function. In between these attacks, the disease itself normally does not worsen.
- Secondary-progressive MS – This kind of MS usually develops after experiencing relapsing-remitting MS for a period of time. The difference is that secondary-progressive MS does damage neurological function in between attacks.
- Primary-progressive MS – This kind of MS is not defined by attacks or relapses. Instead, neurological function gradually worsens over time. The rate at which this happens can vary from person to person. This type of MS accounts for about 10 percent of cases.
- Progressive-relapsing MS – This is the most severe (and rare) type of MS. Progressive-relapsing MS is characterized by deteriorating neurological function in addition to attacks that exacerbate the condition.
The severity and progression of multiple sclerosis determine individual symptoms. According to Mayo Clinic
, some of the most common MS symptoms include:
- Numbness of the limbs
- Blurred vision
- Tremors/lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
A specific cause of multiple sclerosis remains unknown. Most experts believe the condition affects genetically susceptible people who come into contact with environmental factors that trigger the disease. Having a family history of MS increases the likelihood of developing the disease, suggesting that genetics play a role. Researchers have also found that Caucasians are more susceptible to MS than other racial groups. According to the National MS Society, environmental factors play a role, though this is not completely understood. For example, MS seems to be more prevalent in geographical locations that are farther away from the equator. Researchers are also looking into the role that certain virus strains may play in the development of MS.
MS is a lifelong condition that currently has no cure. Treatment options aim to treat the symptoms and slow its progress. According to Mayo Clinic, corticosteroids may be used to help reduce inflammation that arises due to MS attacks. Plasma exchanges may also be used when steroids are not enough. Immunosuppresants and other drugs are often used to slow the disease’s progress, as well as lessen the symptoms associated with MS. For some patients, physical therapy can also be an effective treatment approach.
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