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Overview of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that attacks the central nervous system.  The brain is filled with many nerve fibers called axons.  Axons are protected by covering called myelin. In Multiple Sclerosis, the myelin is attacked by plaques. These plaques break down and attack the myelin. Once the myelin is broken down, the plaques can attack the axons. These plaques can also attack the spinal cord and optic nerves (the nerve that connects the eye to the brain). Plaques form lesions and these lesions cause inflammation. Sometimes these lesions will heal. This pattern of damage to the myelin and axons, followed by healing, causes relapsing-remitting symptoms. During a relapse, the person who has Multiple Sclerosis experiences an attack. Attacks occur when the plaques are attacking the myelin and axons.  When the attack goes away it is called a remission. This is the period where the myelin and axons have healed and there are no symptoms (also called deficits). Attacks are the first sign of Multiple Sclerosis. These attacks can happen once a year or many times in a year. The attacks can last a few weeks or many months. Symptoms of an attack include changes with vision, having difficulty with moving arms and legs, and feeling numb. These symptoms make activities of daily living (such as cooking, washing dishes, and driving) very hard. Symptoms will gradually become worse as the disease progresses.

There are four different forms of Multiple Sclerosis: Relapsing-Remitting, Primary-Progressive, Secondary-Progressive, and Progressive-Relapsing. Relapsing-Remitting and Secondary-Progressive are the most common forms of Multiple Sclerosis.  A rare form of Multiple Sclerosis is Benign-Multiple Sclerosis. People who have Benign-Multiple Sclerosis may have one attack and not have another one for over 10 years.

Multiple Sclerosis typically affects people between 20-40 years old, but has been seen in younger and older people. Women are more likely than men to have Multiple Sclerosis and there are more cases of Multiple Sclerosis in colder climates then warmer ones. Also, whites are more affected by Multiple Sclerosis than blacks or Asians.

No one is sure what causes Multiple Sclerosis. Some theories include genetics, a slow acting virus, a disease in the body’s immune system, or an environmental factor.

There is no cure for Multiple Sclerosis. There are many medications and other therapies that help treat the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.

Additional resources that provide an overview of Multiple Sclerosis:

Multiple Sclerosis Overview (University of Maryland Medical Center)

Multiple Sclerosis (Rush University Medical Center)

Multiple Sclerosis Definition (Mayo Clinic)

Multiple Sclerosis (American Academy of Neurology)