|Multiple Sclerosis (abbreviated MS, also known as disseminated
sclerosis or encephalomyelitis disseminata) is a chronic,
inflammatory disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS).
MS can cause a variety of symptoms, including changes in sensation,
visual problems, muscle weakness, depression, difficulties with
coordination and speech, severe fatigue, cognitive
impairment,problems with balance, over heating, and pain. MS will
cause impaired mobility and disability in more severe cases.|
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.
An unpredictable disease of the central nervous system, multiple
sclerosis (MS) can range from relatively benign to somewhat disabling
to devastating, as communication between the brain and other parts of
the body is disrupted. Many investigators believe MS to be an
autoimmune disease -- one in which the body, through its immune
system, launches a defensive attack against its own tissues. In the
case of MS, it is the nerve-insulating myelin that comes under
assault. Such assaults may be linked to an unknown environmental
trigger, perhaps a virus.
Most people experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of
20 and 40; the initial symptom of MS is often blurred or double
vision, red-green color distortion, or even blindness in one eye.
Most MS patients experience muscle weakness in their extremities and
difficulty with coordination and balance. These symptoms may be
severe enough to impair walking or even standing. In the worst cases,
MS can produce partial or complete paralysis. 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
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. Depression is another common feature of MS.
The predominant theory today is that MS results from attacks by an
individual's immune system on the nervous system and it is therefore
usually categorized as an autoimmune disease. There is a minority
view that MS is not an autoimmune disease, but rather a metabolically
dependent neurodegenerative disease. Although much is known about how
MS causes damage, its exact cause remains unknown.