• Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. It is thought to be an autoimmune disease.
• With MS, the body’s own defense system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system.
• There is no cure.
• Symptoms can include numbness in the limbs, paralysis or loss of vision. The disease affects everyone differently.
• There are four types of multiple sclerosis:
- Relapsing-Remitting MS
Patients have clearly defined attacks of worsening neurologic function called exacerbations, which are followed by partial or complete recovery periods (remissions), during which no disease progression occurs. (About 85 percent of all cases, including, right now, mine.)
- Primary-Progressive MS
People with this form have slowly worsening neurologic function from the beginning—with no distinct relapses or remissions. (10 percent of all cases)
- Secondary-Progressive MS
Many people with Relapsing-Remitting MS at some point become Secondary-Progressive, where the disease worsens more steadily, with or without occasional flare-ups, minor recoveries (remissions), or plateaus.
- Progressive-Relapsing MS
People experience steadily worsening disease from the beginning, but with clear attacks of worsening neurologic function along the way, with no remissions. (About 5 percent of all cases)
• In the United States today, there are approximately 400,000 people with multiple sclerosis. Worldwide, it is estimated to be 2.5 million.
• Multiple sclerosis is not contagious or directly inherited. Still, researchers do not know what causes it.
• MS is difficult to diagnose. An MRI can point to lesions on the brain and spinal cord that might indicate disease activity.
Much of this information has been adapted from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.