What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS):

Neuron
Neurons – Click To Enlarge

Multiple Sclerosis or MS is considered an autoimmune-mediated disease which results in an abnormal immune system response in an individual’s body.  This abnormal response damages nerve cells called neurons in the person’s Central Nervous System (CNS) which is comprised of a person’s brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord.

The human central nervous system is the control center for all of our functionality such as walking, vision, hearing, emotions, memory, thinking abilities and more.  Nerve cells (neurons) transport information within the central nervous system through a combination of electrical and chemical signals.  Neurons connect to each other creating networks of neurons known as neural networks.

In multiple sclerosis, an individual’s immune system which normally protects the body from invaders such as flu’s, bacteria, cancer or other substances foreign to the body attacks nerve cells within the central nervous system.  The inflammation caused by these attacks called “exacerbations” results in damage to neuron cells impacting their ability to transmit signals.  Symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis are the result of the signal loss across the damaged neurons.

MRI Image
MRI Image With Plaques  – Click To Enlarge

Where damage occurs to neuron cells scars are often left behind known as “plaques” or more commonly “lesions.

The definition of multiple sclerosis is “multiple scars.

Multiple sclerosis is not a new disease, until the early years of the 19th century, physicians relied on superstition, hearsay, and “the wisdom of the ancients” to care for the sick.   in 1868, Jean-Martin Charcot, a professor at the University of Paris who has been called “the father of neurology,” carefully examined a young woman with a tremor of a sort he had never seen before. He noted her other neurological problems including slurred speech and abnormal eye movements and compared them to other patients he had seen. When she died, he examined her brain and found the characteristic scars or “plaques” of multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is considered a chronic disease and thus presently there is no cure for the disease.

What Causes Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

Presently the cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, however, research has shown factors that may contribute to the disease.  Vitamin D deficiency, smoking, genetics and geographical location on Earth have been linked to disease activity.

Other suspect causes include low melatonin levels, viral infection, death of certain types of cells in the central nervous system (CNS), blood leaking into the CNS and gut microbiome which contributes to the birthing of immune types of cells.

While rigorous research continues, attempting find the cause(s) of MS the disease remains elusive.

Multiple sclerosis is not contagious.

Distribution Map
Click To Enlarge

Prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis (MS):

It is estimated that some 2.3 million to 2.5 million people currently live with multiple sclerosis globally.  In the United States of America, it is estimated some 400,000 to 450,000 people live with MS.  In the United Kingdom (England) it is estimated that 100,000 people live with MS.

Canada has among the highest rates given the population with over 100,000 cases. It is estimated 1 in 6 people in Canada live with MS.

Multiple sclerosis is found all over the globe including South America, The Middle East, Australia and Europe.

Exact statistics are only now starting to be sought out.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Disease Courses:

There are four defined terms of the disease which describe its course.

Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) is a term that describes a first and single neurologic episode of inflammation in the central nervous system (CNS) lasting at least 24 hours.  People who have an incident of CIS may or may not have it progress towards multiple sclerosis.  Statistically, if plaques appear on a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) that appear similar to plaques associated with MS there is a 60-80% chance of multiple sclerosis.  If the scan does not show plaques or plaques that do not resemble those often associated with MS the statistical risk is 20%. Read More : Detailed CIS Information
Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) which is the most common course of the disease. About 80-85% of patients initially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are diagnosed with RRMS. The course of RRMS is characterized by relapses (attacks or exacerbations in clinical terminology) followed by a time of remission where some levels of symptom recovery occur. Read More: RRMS Detailed Information
Secondary progressive MS (SPMS) signals a change in the RRMS disease course.  In patients who are not on a disease medication to help manage the disease this change statistically happens within 10-20 years from onset of RRMS.  About 50%-80% of RRMS patients not engaging in a disease modifying treatment transition into this disease course.  SPMS is signified by fewer exacerbations, more accrued disability, and less recovery.  Read More: SPMS Detailed Information
Primary progressive MS (PPMS) signifies a disease course that has accrued disability, little recovery from disability and is diagnosed at onset of the disease.  About 10-15% of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are diagnosed with this disease course.   Read More: PPMS Detailed Information

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Symptoms:

MS Symptoms GraphMultiple sclerosis symptoms are a direct result of damage to neuron cells within the central nervous system.  Symptoms vary depending on the region(s) of the central nervous system where damage has occurred and severity of the damage.

Some Early Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Vision color distortions
  • Optic neuritis
  • Muscle weakness, stiff muscles or painful muscles.
  • Tingling, prickling or numbness sensations
  • Balance problems
  • Bladder control or urgency to urinate
  • Prolonged dizziness or vertigo

Some Other Common Symptoms:

  • Sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and the inability to orgasm
  • Difficulty walking due to muscle weakness, spasticity, loss of balance, sensory deficits, and fatigue
  • Constipation and incontinence
  • Cognitive impairments affecting concentration, attention, memory, problem-solving, and judgment
  • Clinical depression
  • Other emotional changes, such as mood swings, irritability.
  • Neuropathic pain

Some Less common symptoms of MS include:

  • Slurred or difficult-to-understand speech, as well as the inability to produce voice sounds (dysphonia)
  • Uncontrollable shaking or tremor
  • Uncontrolled laughing or crying
  • Paralysis
  • Respiratory problems
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Seizures
  • Itchy skin (pruritus)
  • Hearing problems
  • Headaches, particularly migraines
  • Trigeminal or occipital neuralgia

Many symptoms that present as a result of MS are managed through medications and a variety of forms of therapies such as physical or cognitive therapies.

The range of symptoms in multiple sclerosis is vast due to the nature of the disease damaging the central nervous system.