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Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disorder that attacks the central nervous system (CNS) which consists of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Nerve fibers have a fatty tissue called myelin surrounding them which provides protection and enables nerves to perform properly. In MS, the myelin coating is lost or damaged, exposing the nerve and sometimes damaging them. Scar tissue, called sclerosis, plaques or lesions, forms wher- ever the myelin is lost throughout the CNS. These lesions interfere with the normal transmission of electrical impulses along the nerves. Lost or disrupted nerve signals result in the wide variety of symptoms that individuals with MS experience.

Multiple Sclerosis - Causes, Prevalence and Risk Factors

The exact cause of MS is not known. Most re-searchers believe that MS is an autoimmune disease. Normally the immune system defends the body by attacking foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. In MS, the body’s immune system attacks itself, in this case, the myelin sheath. Why the immune system behaves abnormally is un- known.

There are an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 persons in the United States who have MS. The overall risk of developing MS to the general population in the United States is about 1 in 750. However, certain population groups within the general population are at higher risk. For example, two or three times more women than men, have MS. Although people of all ethnic groups may develop  MS, it is more prevalent in caucasians, particularly those of northern European background. Also if you have a parent or sibling with MS, you are much more likely to develop it than the general population. Although MS is not inherited, it is believed that some individuals may inherit a susceptibility to autoimmune disease which places them at greater risk of developing it.

There are a number of myths about MS that are not based in research. First, MS is not contagious. Second, contact with heavy metals can cause damage to the nerves but there is no evidence of heavy metals or mercury from amalgam in dental fillings being linked with MS. Third, a number of viruses have been and are under study in relation- ship with MS. However, no virus has been found to cause MS.

Multiple Sclerosis - Symptoms

The symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary greatly from one person to another and within one person over time. Symptoms may include bowel and/or bladder disfunction, changes in cognitive abilities, dizziness and vertigo, emotional problems, fatigue, difficulty in walking, numbness or “pins and needles,” pain, vision problems, headaches, hearing loss, itching, seizures, spasticity, slurred speech, swallowing problems, and tremors. Most individuals will experience only some of these symptoms and perhaps not at the same time.

Multiple Sclerosis - Diagnosis

Since there is no single test to identify or rule out MS, diagnosis of the condition can be difficult and take awhile. Physicians rely on medical history and a variety of tests and procedures to arrive at a diagnosis. Abnormal functioning of the nervous system, such as, loss of coordination and balance, delayed reflexes, blurred vision and numbness may suggest MS. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) may be used to look for scars on the nervous tissue in the brain or fluid may drawn from the spinal cord to look for antibodies associated with the disease. Definitive diagnosis is usually based on evidence of nerve damage in two different parts of the CNS and two separate flare- ups of MS symptoms over time.


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