History of Multiple Sclerosis

MS Overview: HistoryThe fact that symptoms flare-up and subside for many people with multiple sclerosis (MS), combined with the wide variety and unpredictability of symptoms, has made MS a difficult disease to recognize, define, and treat – right from the start. Since the late 1300s, individuals with a progressive illness suggestive of MS have been observed. It wasn’t until 1868 that the famous neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot, lectured on the features of MS and gave it a name.

Charcot was a French scientist, instructor, and physician who is claimed by some to be the founder of modern neurology. He lived during the 1800s and Sigmund Freud was among the famous students he inspired. In addition to the many neurological disorders that he defined and treated, he was also known for his treatment of hysteria with hypnotism, which he believed was hereditary and caused by weaknesses in one’s neurological system.

Portrait of Jean-Martin Charcot
Jean-Martin Charcot was a french neurologist who defined and gave a name to multiple sclerosis in 1868.

Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, hundreds of therapies were tried, without success, in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Deadly nightshade (a plant with poisonous fruit), arsenic, mercury, and the injection of malaria parasites, are just a few examples of the types of ineffective and even dangerous therapies that were once given to individuals with MS.

In 1951, cortisone (a steroid) was first used to treat MS relapses (also known as exacerbations, attacks, or symptom flare-ups). Cortisone was found to reduce the severity of the relapse and to shorten its duration, but it had no long-term effects on the disease.

The first drug proving to be effective in the long-term treatment of MS received approval in 1993. Presently, 17 long-term treatments are now approved for relapsing forms of MS, with many more on the way. These are also referred to as disease-modifying therapies (DMTs). While these medications do not cure MS, they do work to slow disease activity as well as reduce the severity and frequency of flare-ups. Additionally, these DMTs may delay disease progression, delay disability, and increase longevity.

Read The Evolution of MS Diagnosis, Treatment, and Care to learn about the history of MS.

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