Multiple Sclerosis: What is it?
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system. It affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Multiple Sclerosis means- scar tissue in multiple areas.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) will develop in any person and it is not possible to predict the reason. More than 4,00,000 people in the United States (U.S) have MS, and about 10,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. MS exists in India, but the prevalence is lower than American and European population. MS is 2 to 3 times more prevalent in women than in men and diagnosis generally happens between the age of 20 and 50 years.
What is MS?
Multiple sclerosis is a complex condition that affects the nervous system. In the central nervous system (CNS), the nerve fibres are shielded by a myelin sheath, which guards them. In MS, the myelin sheath disappears in multiple areas, leaving a scar, or sclerosis.
The areas where there is a lack of myelin are called lesions. As lesions worsens, nerve fibres become damaged. As a result, the electrical impulses from the brain do not flow smoothly to the target nerve. The messages cannot be transmitted from the brain to the muscles.
The accurate cause of MS is unidentified, but it is considered to be an autoimmune disorder, which means that myelin sheath is attacked by the immune system as if it were a foreign body, just as it attacks a virus or bacteria.
Signs and symptoms vary greatly from person to person, as the disease progresses depending on the location of affected nerve fibres. They may include:
- Numbness or tingling sensation in one or more limbs that usually affects only one side of the body at a time.
- Incomplete or complete loss of vision, generally in one eye at a time, accompanied by pain during movement.
- Tingling as “pins and needles” in parts of your body.
- Electric shock feelings that happen with neck movements, especially while bending the neck.
- Problems with coordination and balance.
- Feeling fatigue
- Problems with memory and thinking
- Difficulties with bowel and bladder function.
The diagnosis is clear-cut for people with relapsing-remitting MS, based on symptoms and confirmed by brain imaging scans, such as MRI. There are no tests designed specifically for MS. As an alternative, diagnosis depends on excluding other conditions that might have similar signs and symptoms, known as the differential diagnosis.
- Blood tests, to help doctors exclude other diseases with symptoms like MS.
- MRI: Imaging test enables the doctor to examine at your brain, look for signs of inflammation in the deepest parts of the brain or spinal cord. An intravenous injection of a contrast material is injected to focus lesions that identify the disease in an active phase.
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): A small sample of fluid is collected from the spinal canal for analysis. The samples show abnormalities in antibodies that are linked with MS. Spinal taps also help to exclude infections similar to MS.
Evoked potentials: Electrical nerve tests can help the doctor find out if MS has affected any parts of your brain that helps you see, hear, and feel. The doctor will place wires on your scalp to examine your brain’s reaction as you watch a pattern on a screen, or get electrical impulses on your arm or leg.
There is no remedy for multiple sclerosis. Treatment naturally aims at speeding recovery from attacks, slowing the advancement of the disease and managing MS symptoms. Only a few people with mild symptoms require no treatment.