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MAIN Arrow to HealthHealth Arrow to DiseaseDiseases Arrow to Multiple Sclerosis Information GuideMultiple sclerosis

diagram showing effects of damage to nerves in MS
Just as an electrical wire will spark and misfire
if the cover is frayed, myelin sheath damage
causes brain impulses to short circuit.

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, effects the electrical impulses from the brain that effect muscle movement.

Just like the cover of a wire that keeps energy flowing through an electrical device, the nerves in the brain and spinal cord are covered by a myelin sheath.

If the sheath is damaged, the nerves spark and misfire -- ultimately causing the signal to the muscles to short circuit.

The condition is often typified by weakened control over movement and related symptoms that result in lessened mobility over time.

Although there is no cure for MS, research is ongoing to deal with symptoms and to slow the progression of the disease.

Causes and risks of multiple sclerosis

It was in the 19th century when doctors first noticed the many microscopic scars ("sclerosis" in Latin) that appeared in the brains in patients who died with this illness. As a result, they gave the disease its descriptive name -- multiple sclerosis -- or "many scars".

While the cause of MS is still unknown, theories suggest that it may be a misguided immune response that causes the body to attack its own nervous system. Mysteries also surround the risks of getting MS, which seem to depend on a complex and not well understood interaction of genetic, environmental, demographic, and geographic factors:

• The disease, for example, occurs more commonly in those living in cooler, rather than warmer climates, and most frequently among people with European ancestry.

• Women, normally between the ages of 20 and 50, are three times more likely to develop the disease.

• Further baffling researchers, genetic factors make certain individuals more susceptible than others, but no clear evidence has yet been found indicating that MS is directly inherited.

Signs & symptoms of multiple sclerosis

diagram showing main MS symptoms and where they occurWeakness, muscle tremors, and difficulty with speech may be the earliest symptoms of MS. The first symptoms may be so mild that only the person involved notices. Because the disease goes into remission followed by relapses, early episodes may not get diagnosed as MS.

As the disease progresses, people with MS lose the ability to move their arms and legs. Physical therapy and assistive devices allow patients to remain mobile even after the disease begins to affect movement.

Speech muscles can also be affected, and speech therapy or speech synthesizers and computers are often used to keep communication channels open. In the final stages of this disease the muscles needed to breathe stop working and respirators may be used to maintain lung function for as long as possible.

Treatment of multiple sclerosis

While there is no cure for MS, there have been advances in the treatments and medications used to slow the progress of the disease. Evidence from controlled randomized clinical trials suggests that all currently approved drugs for the treatment of MS decrease the relapse rate and slow the course of the inflammation within the central nervous system.

There are many MS drugs currently in use to treat symptoms. Interferon beta drugs have had success with reducing the CNS inflammation and increasing the time between relapses. Glatiramer acetate or GA (Copaxone), Mitoxantrone (Novantrone) and most recently, Natalizumab (Tysabri) have also been shown successful in slowing the course of MS.

Other drugs in MS clinical trials are showing positive results. Complementary and alternative therapies for MS such as diet, exercise, nutritional supplements and acupuncture, are also available. Some of these remedies are said to be helpful with the underlying disease, but most focus on relieving the discomfort of the symptoms.

With current treatments, the expected life span of someone diagnosed with MS is close to the average. Quality of life has also been vastly improved.

People who are diagnosed with MS can look forward to living longer and slowing down the progress of the disease to avoid the disabling effects for a much longer time than was the case even ten years ago. MS support groups for patients and caregivers can also provide ideas for successfully coping with the changes in lifestyle and the emotional stress of living with increasingly reduced mobility.

More about multiple sclerosis around the Web:

National Multiple Sclerosis Society
- The National Multiple Sclerosis Society and its network of chapters nationwide in the USA help promote research, educate, advocate on critical issues, and organize a wide range of programs— including support for the newly diagnosed and those living with MS.

Multiple Sclerosis International Federation - Global outreach in an array of languages provides up to date information on symptoms, treatments, research and real people living with MS including a community section to send and receive messages, create “buddy lists”, upload a portrait and contribute to online polls.

This information is intended as reference and not as medical advice.
All treatment decisions should be made by medical professionals.


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