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The Mysterious Roots of Multiple Sclerosis

Product Specialist | Shield HealthCare
08/29/19  3:30 PM PST
multiple sclerosis

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis, meaning multiple areas of scarring, is a disease of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves). In the case of multiple sclerosis (MS), scarring is a result of the immune system attacking the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects nerve fibers. Consequently, it is common to have communication errors between the brain and the rest of the body causing neurological symptoms.

Multiple sclerosis

Symptoms

There are four forms of Multiple Sclerosis: Clinically Isolated Syndrome, Relapsing-remitting MS, Primary progressive MS, and Secondary progressive MS. These different types are defined by how long symptoms are present, when and if remission occurs, the formation of new lesions, and level of disability. Click here to learn more about the different types of Multiple Sclerosis.

Every case of MS is different as manifestation and severity of symptoms vary. Common symptoms include:

  • Numbness or weakness in the limbs
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Thinking & memory problems
  • Tingling or pain
  • Slurred speech
  • Vision problems
  • Bladder & bowel control problems
  • Tremors

Risk Factors

MS is classified as an immune-mediated disease. This means that something has triggered the immune system to take action on it’s own body. In the case of MS, it has malfunctioned and mistakenly attacks the central nervous system (CNS). However, the root cause, or trigger, of multiple sclerosis remains unknown. Researchers have found what seem to be risk factors for those who develop MS. Although, it is thought to be a combination of environment and genetics that triggers the immune system to act on the CNS this way.

From what is known about this condition, risk factors may include:

  • Age. People are mostly affected by MS at ages 16-55.
  • Sex. Women are more likely to be affected by MS.
  • Family history. Chances of developing MS are higher for those that have close relatives with a form of MS.
  • Infections. Some viruses, including Epstein-Barr, have been linked to MS.
  • Race. MS mostly affects those of Northern European descent.
  • Climate. A positive correlation has been found with people living in temperate climate (4 seasons) and increased risk of developing MS.
  • Vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with MS. Epidemiologist have noticed a pattern of increased MS cases in areas further away from the equator. People living in these areas have less exposure to sunlight causing their bodies to produce less vitamin D — compared to those living near the equator.
  • Autoimmune diseases. A subset of immune-mediated disease is autoimmune disease. This is when the immune system mistakenly attacks it’s own body. Some autoimmune diseases are: Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Celiac disease, Type 1 Diabetes, Polymyositis, Psoriasis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Those who are already living with one autoimmune disease are at higher risk for developing MS.
  • Smoking.

*It is possible that there are still unknown factors that contribute to the development of MS. 

New data finds that approximately 1 million Americans are living with MS, which is double original estimates. Also, it is significantly higher then many other regions of the world. This can mean two things:

  1. More people are actually developing the disease because of the factors listed above and/or
  2. Diagnostic efforts are now more accurate (and in some regions more then others).

Diagnosis

Affecting nearly 1 million Americans, including children, MS can be difficult to diagnose. And the process can be quicker or longer depending on the case. To determine if the patient’s symptoms are from MS, multiple tests are needed to rule out other causes. There is not one test alone that will indicate MS.

Diagnostic tools:

  • Medical history
  • Blood tests
  • Neurological tests
  • Spinal tap
  • MRI

Three important criteria for a MS diagnosis:

  1. There must be at least two areas in the CNS with damaged myelin.
  2. There must have been at least two different episodes or relapses that have caused the damage to the CNS.
  3. Other possible diagnoses must be ruled out.

Treatment

There is currently no cure for MS. On the other hand, there are treatments to manage the symptoms associated with this disease. And considering that every case of MS is different, treatment and management plans will vary from person to person.

Common treatments:

  • Corticosteriods to reduce inflammation
  • Disease-modifying therapies
  • Plasma exchange
  • Therapy
  • Complementary & alternative medicines

Research is being done to advance technology and diagnostic testing. As this happens, the actual prevalence of MS and it’s causes will become more clear. Thus, this will also improve treatment to be timely and more effective, improving prognosis.

 

Sources:

Familydoctor.org

Healthline

Mayo Clinic

MedlinePlus

MS Statistics

National Multiple Sclerosis Society

 

 

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