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.

Presently, more than 20 brand-name and generic medications are now approved for relapsing forms of MS, with some recent approvals that include primary-progressive MS (PPMS) and “active” (with relapses still occurring) secondary-progressive MS (SPMS). Research continues into other experimental medications for MS and more approvals are anticipated.

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

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