Health Talk: Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which a person’s immune system attacks his or her nervous system.

Approximately 400,000 Americans suffer from MS, and over 2.5 million people do worldwide. According to a Feb. 19 article on Medical News Today, one out of every 750 people is at risk for developing MS.

While there is no known cause for MS, the data suggest that certain groups are more likely to be affected by the disease. For example, females and Caucasians with northern European heritage are more susceptible to the disease.

Both genetics and the environment play a role in the likelihood of being diagnosed with MS. An individual is more likely to be diagnosed with MS if they have a close family member who has the disease.

MS is usually diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 20 and 50, but not through conventional diagnostic means. Since there is no definite way to diagnose the disease, doctors explore the patient’s symptoms and medical history in an attempt to rule out other possible diseases before diagnosing a patient with MS.

If this method is unsuccessful in determining whether a patient has MS, doctors examine the patient’s brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning. The MRI results show the existence and extent of damage done by MS.

Scientists have discovered that MS is closely linked to a genetic defect present in chromosome 6.

The presence of this defect does not necessarily mean that diagnosis of MS is inevitable, though studies have shown that a correlation does exist between this chromosome and the disease.

While this knowledge may not help determine the cause of MS, it may help in the discovery of a cure.

Because MS attacks the nervous system, symptoms vary from the less serious, such as loss of balance or blurred vision, to the more serious, as in the case of paralysis.

Symptoms vary on a case-by-case basis, as the symptoms experienced depend upon the area of the brain affected by the disease. While some patients may experience difficulties relating to muscular activity, others experience speech problems. The most common symptom of MS is fatigue, which affects 78 percent of patients, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

Although there is no cure for MS, treatment is possible. There are two kinds of treatment: one aims at reducing symptoms; the other reduces the number and frequency of attacks made by the disease upon the nervous system.

Therapy and medication can both help to alleviate symptoms, depending upon the nature of those symptoms. In the case of fatigue, for example, patients are often recommended a change in lifestyle.

The more important treatment, though, is to prevent the disease from worsening and creating new lesions on the brain. Medicines are used to slow this process and keep the patient from developing new symptoms.

These treatments may not cease symptoms altogether, but they lessen the likelihood of symptoms worsening.

It is important that treatment be started early, regardless of the mildness of the symptoms. Early treatment could mean the difference between paralysis and full muscular mobility.

A frequent symptom of MS is acute depression, and patients may require guidance by a counselor. In addition to being a good treatment for depression, counseling may benefit all those close to the diagnosed.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease, meaning that it will never completely go away. Likewise, the symptoms may never vanish; they may worsen, stay the same, or even seem to disappear, but the possibility that they will return is always a reality.

There is no “typical” MS case. Every case is unique, and therefore must be handled in its own way. Caring for an MS patient involves time and understanding, and some cases may require more than others.

It is important to remember that MS is not fatal in most cases, and individuals diagnosed with MS may still possibly lead a normal life.