What is MS?

Mutiple Sclerosis

M.S affects the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord which are connected to cranial nerves (12 pairs) and spinal nerves (31 pairs). This network of nerves signals electrical and chemical messages to each other at great speed, controlling body functions.

In M.S, the myelin, the fatty protective sheath that surrounds the nerve fibres, becomes damaged. It can take some time to diagnose the condition as it takes several symptoms over different periods of time before further tests are undertaken and a diagnosis made.

Networks that send messages to the CNS in response to stimuli such as heat or pain are known as sensory nerves. Networks that transmit messages in the other direction from the CNS to peripheral organs and tissues are known as motor nerves. In M.S the messages going to and from the brain and spinal cord become distorted or slowed down, resulting in M.S symptoms.

what is ms

Roughly 1 in 750 are diagnosed with the condition and more women have the condition than men. Some people experience ‘attacks’ which are the sudden onset of symptoms, but which fade after a few days or weeks. Sometimes medication or additional therapy is required to help the process. Others do not experience these attacks but do notice some deterioration over the years, but it is impossible to know.

Symptoms are very varied and differ in everyone, but there are common trends and it is crucial to ensure that facilities are available to help them when required. Whether this be therapy, information or just support for the person with M.S, their carer or other family members.

Different types of Multiple Sclerosis

There are basically four types namely Benign, Relapsing / Remitting, Primary Progressive and Secondary Progressive.

Benign

Someone with a small number of relapses followed by a complete recovery may be described as having benign M.S. It is only possible to make a diagnosis of benign M.S once someone has experienced little or no disability for a period of 10 to 15 years. However, a relapse may occasionally occur after many years in which the M.S has been inactive.

Primary Progressive

With Primary Progressive M.S, symptoms steadily worsen; resulting in a continued progression in disability without distinct relapses and remissions.

Relapsing/Remitting

Someone with a small number of relapses followed by a complete recovery may be described as having benign M.S. It is only possible to make a diagnosis of benign M.S once someone has experienced little or no disability for a period of 10 to 15 years. However, a relapse may occasionally occur after many years in which the M.S has been inactive.

Secondary Progressive

This type of M.S is identified when a condition becomes steadily worse and disability progresses for a period of 6 months or more, whether or not they continue to have relapses. Most people who have relapsing/remitting M.S eventually develop secondary progressive.

Symptoms

The term ‘Sclerosis’ means scarring. Demyelination causes many scars or lesions in different places within the central nervous system. The symptoms that occur depend on the site and severity of the lesions and this is why people with M.S experience different symptoms at different times.

Common Symptoms

Fatigue

Loss of vision, blurred or double vision

Weakness of limbs

Reduced co-ordination

Balance problems

Numbness, pins and needles

What causes M.S?

Although it is not yet certain why people develop M.S, research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors are involved:

Genetic

M.S is not directly inherited; however there does appear to be a genetic component – possibly a combination of certain genes – which makes people more susceptible. Family members of someone diagnosed with M.S have a slightly higher chance of developing M.S themselves.

Environmental

Studies have found that the further north from the equator you live, the higher the chance of developing M.S. It appears that there is a higher rate of M.S in the UK (M.S is more common in Scotland than in the rest of the UK), North America and Scandinavia but a very low rate in countries like Malaysia which are very close to the equator. Some research suggests that there is a link between M.S and Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D mostly comes from exposure to sunlight so this could be a factor. Research on this matter is ongoing.

How is M.S diagnosed?

You will be referred to a neurologist who will look at your medical history and examine you. You are then likely to undergo a number of tests including:

  • M.S MRI Scan

    This will identify any areas of the brain or spinal cord that may have scarring.

  • Lumbar Puncture

    A lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap) is used to take a sample of spinal fluid to test for abnormalities.

  • Evoked Potentials

    Simple tests that measure the time it takes for the nerves to respond to electrical stimulation.

A positive diagnosis can take some time and these tests are not always conclusive.

mri

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