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Home > About MS > MS Overview
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MS Overview

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Introduction
History
The MS Process and Symptoms
Who Gets MS
Types of MS
Relapses
The Immune System and MS
Possible Causes of MS
Diagnosing MS and Evaluating Disease Activity
Additional Evaluative Tools
The Importance of Long-Term Treatment
The Future of MS Research and Treatments



Photo of a woman smiling Introduction
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause a variety of symptoms
  • For many, symptoms can flare-up and then subside over the course of days, months, or even years
  • MS is not contagious and its causes are not yet fully understood
  • MS is most frequently diagnosed in young adults

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Photo of a medical textbook and a stethoscope History
  • In 1868, neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot lectured on MS
  • Hundreds of treatments were tried, without success
  • In 1951, cortisone (a steroid) was first used to treat MS relapses
  • 10 long-term treatments are now approved for relapsing forms of MS

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Photo of a doctor looking through a microscope The MS Process and Symptoms
  • MS is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS)
  • With MS, the protective covering (known as "myelin") that protects the nerves becomes damaged
  • Damaged myelin (and eventually nerves) disrupts the smooth flow of nerve impulses, causing the symptoms of MS
  • Common symptoms include fatigue, numbness, visual disturbances, bladder problems, mobility issues, and more
  • Areas of inflammation and damage in the brain or spinal cord are known as "lesions" or "plaques"

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Photo of 3 individuals Who Gets MS
  • Approximately 400,000 individuals have MS in the United States and 2.5 million worldwide
  • Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 50
  • Women are more likely than men to develop relapsing-remitting MS
  • Geographically, people who live farther from the equator have a higher risk of MS
  • Caucasians have a higher incidence of MS than those of African heritage
  • African-Americans may experience more problems with vision and mobility
  • MS susceptibility is increased if a family member has MS
  • Smoking increases the risk of MS
  • A Vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of MS
  • Individuals with parasites have a lower incidence of MS
  • Clues for Disease Progression

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Photo of a doctor holding files Types of MS
  • The most common types of MS are: relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS); secondary-progressive MS (SPMS); primary-progressive MS (PPMS); and progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS)
  • Uncommon types of MS include benign MS and fulminate MS
  • Prior to an MS diagnosis, individuals with "possible MS" may have clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) or radiologically isolated syndrome (RIS)

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Photo of a man thinking Relapses
  • Relapses are also referred to as exacerbations, attacks, or flare-ups
  • Relapses occur with relapsing-remitting, progressive-relapsing, and sometimes secondary-progressive forms of MS
  • During a relapse, inflammation is occurring along the nerves and the myelin, causing a temporary worsening or recurrence of symptoms
  • A pseudoexacerbation is a temporary worsening of symptoms without actual myelin inflammation or damage
  • Treatments are available to reduce the severity and duration of a relapse

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Photo of a doctor looking through a microscope The Immune System and MS
  • With MS, the body's own system of defense, known as the immune system, malfunctions
  • MS is believed to be an autoimmune disease
  • Immune-system cells that are misdirected to attack myelin, must cross the blood-brain barrier to enter the central nervous system (CNS)
  • Once in the CNS, immune-system cells cause inflammation and damage to the myelin (the protective covering to the nerves)
  • Early in the disease, myelin may be repaired (remyelination)
  • Later in the disease process, and with progressive forms of MS, remyelination does not occur as frequently

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Photo of woman sitting on grass in the sunlight Possible Causes of MS
  • Many possible causes for MS have been studied; a combination of factors appears to be involved
  • Slow-acting viruses, such as Epstein-Barr, could be involved
  • Researchers theorize that under certain conditions, MS may develop in genetically-susceptible individuals
  • Nutritional factors, such as fat intake and omega-3 fatty acids, may play a role in increasing or reducing one's risk of MS
  • Insufficient vitamin D and/or sunlight may also play a role
  • The reduction in parasites from different countries appears to be related to an increase in MS; individuals with parasites are less-likely to be diagnosed with MS
  • Smoking increases the risk of MS
  • CCSVI is a complex condition involving changes in blood flow from the brain back to the heart; some theorize this could be involved

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Photo of a nurse and patient getting ready for a MRI Diagnosing MS and Evaluating Disease Activity
  • Lesions may be viewed on an MRI scan of the brain and/or spine
  • By evaluating the size and location of lesions (areas of inflammation and myelin damage), disease activity within the CNS may be measured
  • A lumbar puncture is sometimes used to assist in the diagnosis of MS
  • Evoked potential (EP) tests measure the speed of the brain's response to visual, auditory (sound), or sensory (feeling) stimuli

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Photo of a doctor and patient going over results Additional Evaluative Tools
  • The most commonly used scale to measure mobility and other areas affected by MS is the Kurtzke Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS)
  • A newer measurement system is the MS Functional Composite (MSFC) scale
  • Other scales measure specific MS symptoms and functions, such as fatigue, vision, mobility, and more

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Photo of a doctor holding a clipboard The Importance of Long-Term Treatment
  • At the present, approved long-term treatments are only available for individuals with relapsing forms of MS
  • 12 disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) are now approved for relapsing forms of MS (as of August 2014)
  • DMTs may: reduce the number and severity of symptom flare-ups; delay disease progression; reduce the number of active lesions; and potentially extend one's lifespan
  • DMTs have reduced or delayed the number of individuals who advance from relapsing-remitting MS to secondary-progressive MS

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Photo of a doctor and nurse The Future of MS Research and Treatments
  • Targets for MS treatments include the many components and functions of the immune system response
  • One approach is to block, reduce, or deplete those cells and other agents that promote inflammation and/or damage to the CNS
  • Interrupting this chain of events also includes preventing the damaging cells from entering the CNS through the blood-brain barrier (BBB).
  • Treatments are also being developed for neuroprotection (protecting the nerves) and remyelination (regenerating the protective nerve covering)

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 November 2014 12:22