What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis is a very unpredictable, chronic disease which strikes the central nervous system (i.e. the brain and spinal cord.).
Many aspects of MS suggest that it is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the body actually attacks its own cells and tissues. What triggers the immune system to attack is still a mystery, although it is believed to be a combination of factors.
About 2.5 million people worldwide are known to be affected. But this figure could be far higher as some people can have the disease without even knowing it.
The name multiple sclerosis comes from the fact that the many areas of the brain and spinal cord can be affected (multiple) and because tissue in the affected areas is scarred or "sclerosed".
Multiple Sclerosis is regarded as an inflammatory condition, mainly affecting the white matter of the brain and spinal cord. This matter is made up of the nerve fibers which transmit communications signals within the central nervous system. Think of it as an electrical switchboard to the nerves supplying the body. These nerves are surrounded by a protective sheath called myelin. MS attacks the myelin causing it to break down (demyelination) and be replaced by scar tissue. When this happens signals to the central nervous system can be blocked or confused, messing up functions such as coordination, vision and memory.
Usually it is the speed and efficiency of these signals that allows us to perform everyday coordinated movements with very little conscious effort.
On and Off Autoimmune Disorder
But the body is an amazing thing. One of the incredible facts about myelin is its ability to repair itself - one moment MS is attacking it and the next it is fighting back.
Remyelination is a major factor in why MS is linked to many attacks which can be followed by periods of remission or even recovery. Unfortunately, the more attacks occur the harder it becomes for the nerves to recover and this is when can progress.
No two people are ever affected exactly the same way by MS. Sufferers can have markedly different symptoms because nerve damage to one area of the brain or spinal cord can cause a completely different reaction to the damage occurring in another area of the central nervous system.
Generally speaking MS sufferers can experience partial or even complete loss of any function controlled by the brain or spinal cord.
It is important to remember that Multiple Sclerosis is usually a progressive disease and it could be many years from the initial diagnosis before someone would even need a walking stick on a regular basis. Some people may even live with the disease for many years and die without ever knowing they had it because of the mildness of the symptoms.
It is not a fatal disease and as yet, according to mainstream medical profession say, it is neither preventable nor curable.