Multiple sclerosis (MS) is believed to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. More specifically, this disease attacks the myelin which protects nerves. This leads to a wide range of impairments and damaging symptoms. Although the cause isn’t fully understood, we now know more about this condition than ever before, hopefully working towards an effective treatment in the future.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
As mentioned, this disease affects the central nervous system, as an individual’s immune system begins to attack the myelin, which acts as protective insulation. As inflammation deteriorates the affected individual’s myelin, this causes the spinal cord and brain signals to malfunction.
This disease is fairly unpredictable and highly complex. In turn, symptoms vary greatly from case to case and can even fluctuate within the same individual. This is what makes this disease difficult to treat in terms of reducing symptoms and there is currently no cure.
What Are Some of the Most Common Symptoms?
Since MS affects myelin within the spinal cord and brain, nerve impulses become distorted. Due to the varying degrees of damage and the parts of the central nervous system affected, symptoms range from individual-to-individual. Based on this factor, not everyone experiences all symptoms and many actually improve throughout periods of remission. Some of the most common MS symptoms include:
- Bladder and bowel dysfunction
- Cognitive decline
- Mobility issues
- Numbness and tingling
- Heat intolerance
There are also different types of MS, represented in various stages. Primary-progressive MS, for instance, leads to disability and there are not generally periods of remission. In comparison to relapsing-remitting MS, where symptoms are unpredictable and periods of relapse are experienced, symptoms will clearly differ.
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
We know that patients with MS experience nerve signal damage, resulting in a range of symptoms. The exact cause of MS is unknown, but researchers believe that four key factors play a role in the development of this disease.
- Malfunctioning Immune System: Within patients who have MS, their immune system begins to attack their central nervous system. Although we know that the myelin sheath is damaged due to inflammation, what triggers this response is unknown.
- Genetics: Several genes have been linked to MS and if a close relative has MS, you have a slightly higher chance of developing this disease as well. With that being said, if a parent has MS, the likelihood that their children will suffer from symptoms as well is approximately 2 to 5 percent.
- Environmental: Since MS tends to affect more people in countries that are further from the equator. This has now lead researchers to believe that vitamin D may play a role, based on its positive effects on immune function.
- Infections: It is possible that either bacteria or a virus kickstart the inflammation which destroys myelin. At this time, measles, Epstein-Barr, and human herpes virus-6 are being investigated.
Are There Any Effective Treatment Methods?
Once again, there’s no cure for MS, but there are treatment options used to treat symptoms. These treatments fall into the following categories: disease-modifying, relapse management, and symptom management therapies, as well as physical therapy and alternative medicine.
Perhaps some of the most promising medications are those which reduce relapse and slow the progression of MS. Known as immunomodulatory therapies, this treatment option targets inflammation for individuals with either relapsing-remitting or secondary progressive MS.
To reduce relapse, steroid medications are often offered to decrease the severity of relapses. For individuals with MS, relapse simply means that they’re experiencing an attack caused by inflammation in a set area within the CNS. This treatment method is typically only used short-term, as steroids can yield their own set of symptoms. Other medications will also be offered to reduce symptoms such as pain and fatigue.
For those who suffer from mobility issues, physical therapy can help strengthen and improve everyday activities. Others are also interested in more natural approaches, utilizing homeopathic medicine, massage, herbs, and meditation. Remember, everyone is unique which is why you should stick to the treatment plan in which you have created with your personal health care provider.
How is Multiple Sclerosis Linked to Dementia?
Some individuals affected by MS experience a loss in cognitive functioning. If damage occurs within a set area of the brain, then issues regarding memory, problem-solving, and concentration may arise. The degree to which a patient experiences symptoms of dementia differs based on set circumstances.
Krucick, G. (2015). 4 Possible Causes of Multiple Sclerosis. Healthline. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/possible-causes
(2015). Symptoms. Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. Retrieved from https://beta.mssociety.ca/about-ms/symptoms