Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system, affecting the spinal cord, the brain and the optic nerves. MS can vary greatly in severity from person to person and can cause a wide range of symptoms, from mild problems to severe disabilities.
Multiple sclerosis symptoms typically begin between the ages of 20 and 50.
Causes of Multiple Sclerosis
Relatively little is known about the cause of the multiple sclerosis. One theory is that genetics makes someone more susceptible to getting MS, but that it's some combination of environmental factors or triggers that often causes the disease to surface. With MS, the immune system attacks the central nervous system, but researchers are mixed on whether it is specifically an autoimmune disorder. Rather, it is often called an immune-mediated disorder. In multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the myelin, which is a protective covering of nerve fibers in the central nervous system. This disrupts communication with the brain and leads to the symptoms of MS.
Types of MS
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary so widely that the disease is often classified as one of four different “courses”:
Any one of these courses can include the symptoms of MS, such as problems with coordination, balance and walking; fatigue; numbness; vision issues; dizziness; issues with bowel, bladder and sexual function; emotional changes and mental issues; depression; and chronic pain. As MS worsens, it may also include issues with speech, breathing, swallowing and other problems.
There’s no cure for multiple sclerosis, but people can often manage the disease through a combination of medications that help with symptoms and various types of therapy, including physical, occupational and speech. Working closely with doctors is the best course of action for finding the right approach for anyone with MS.
SOURCES: National Multiple Sclerosis Society
More patients are turning to supplements, exercise and mind-body therapies to treat symptoms.
MS patients may have a higher risk of developing certain cancers.