Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a manifestation of autoimmunity where inflammation, cell-killing (cytotoxoc) T-cells and autoantibody attack the cells of the sheath that covers your body and brain’s nerves. This coating is a sort of insulation called myelin. The result is known as de-myelination.

Myelin is a fatty substance manufactured by special cells called oligodendrocytes — which in MS are also attacked by the immune system. It’s not one layer like the insulation around electrical wires, but it’s coiled around the axons (nerve fibers) in multiple layers, like many strands of twisted wires wound together.

Since your nerves transmit the electrical pulses that travel from your brain to the rest of your body, attacking the myelin interferes with this communication, causing many symptoms. About two-thirds of U.S. MS patients are women.

whatismultiplesclerosis Warning signs include: fatigue, vision problems (double or blurred vision), tingling, numbness or burning sensations in the arms and legs, muscle weakness, muscle stiffness, balance and coordination problems, short-term memory loss, dizziness, depression, slowed or slurred speech, change in bowel and bladder functions.

As de-myelination proceeds, the nerve axons are exposed, which can lead to loss of function. They can even be severed. Inflammation at the site of de-myelination is believed to cause MS flares.

As de-myelination proceeds, myelin is replaced by sclerotic (scar) tissue, which forms plaques in spots around the nervous system. This gives the disease its name.

Nobody really knows what causes MS in the first place. About twenty percent of MS patients have one or more relatives with the disease, so genetics may play a role. It’s possible that the immune system is reacting to viruses occupying nerve cells. Possibilities include Epstein-Barr (EBV or mononucleosis or mono or the kissing diseases), influenza, mumps, measles and the herpes virus that causes childhood roseola.

Since many of the symptoms listed above can also be caused by many other diseases, MS is difficult to diagnose, especially at first, when the symptoms tend to come and go. However, vision problems not caused by obvious eye problems are not common in other diseases, so people with blurry or double vision that comes and goes should certainly get that checked out.

The most frequently used test for MS is the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain. This test detects the white plaques that indicate MS at work. Evoked potentials (EPs) are noninvasive tests of myelin conduction. They can detect lesions that don’t show up in an MRI.

A lumbar puncture or spinal tap tests some cerebrospinal fluid for antibodies and proteins associated with the breakdown of myelin.

Multiple sclerosis is evaluated on a sliding scale from 1 to 6 on the Extended Disability Status Score (EDSS), which measures vision, sensation, coordination, strength and walking ability. A score of 0 means the patient’s neurological function is normal. When they reach a score of 6, they need to walk with a cane.

People who’ve experienced a single MS attack can start taking medications to help them slow the progression of the disease. These include: Interferon beta-1a (Avonex), Interferon beta-1b (Betaseron), Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone), and Mitoxantrone (Novantrone).

Because of earlier treatment, two out of three people with MS remain able to walk twenty years after diagnosis, and this number may well grow as more people detect their MS earlier, and better drugs help control the progress of the disease.

Other Immune Articles You May Be Interested In:
AutoImmune Diseases: When Your Body Attacks Itself
Human Immune System: Your Best Defense is a Good Offense