What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
Multiple sclerosis means ‘scar tissue in multiple areas’. It is a disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of the nerves, known as the myelin sheath.
When the myelin sheath disappears or sustains damage in multiple areas, it leaves a scar, or sclerosis. These areas are also referred to as plaques or lesions. They mainly affect:
- The brain stem
- The cerebellum, which coordinates movement and controls balance
- The spinal cord
- The optic nerves
- White matter in some regions of the brain
As more lesions develop, nerve fibers can break or become damaged. As a result, the electrical impulses from the brain do not flow smoothly to the target nerve and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body.
MS is a lifelong condition that affects people in varying ways. For some the condition can be quite mild and for others it can cause serious disability.
There is no cure for MS, however medication available now along with complementary therapies and lifestyle changes, can help speed recovery from attacks, modify the course of the disease and manage symptoms.
MS is most commonly diagnosed in people in their 20’s and 30’s, although it can develop at any age. It’s about two to three times more common in women than men.
Types of MS
There is no way to predict with any certainty how an individual’s disease will progress, however four basic MS disease courses (also called types or phenotypes) have been defined. These are:
Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)
This is a single, first episode, with symptoms lasting at least 24 hours. If another episode occurs at a later date, a doctor will diagnose relapse-remitting MS.
Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)
This is the most common form, affecting around 85% of people with MS. RRMS involves episodes of new or increasing symptoms, followed by periods of remission, during which symptoms go away partially or totally.
Primary Progressive MS (PPMS)
Symptoms worsen progressively, without early relapses or remissions. Some people may experience times of stability and periods when symptoms worsen and then get better. Around 15% of people with MS have PPMS.
Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS)
At first, people will experience episodes of relapse and remission, but then the disease will start to progress steadily.