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Multiple Sclerosis: Understanding and Living
with the Disease

By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 4)

Mulltiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most baffling and debilitating neurological diseases. About 500,000 people in the United States are afflicted with it. Worldwide there are more than 2.5 million persons who live with MS each day. MS strikes young people between the ages of 18 and 35, and more women are affected than men. MS is a form of an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body begins to attack itself over a period of time.

The causes of MS are a mystery to researchers, with various theories being studied. It attacks the central nervous system (CNS) with damage to the method that nerves use to communicate with others. The damage is intermittent and may not be evident at all times, leading to some confusion in the symptoms and the correct diagnosis of those symptoms.

Myelin is a fatty covering or coating to the nerves and serves to help nerve impulses travel from one area of the body to another. For example, these impulses may tell your brain that the stove you just touched is hot. In MS, the myelin breaks down either entirely or partially around patches of nerves in a process known as demyelination. Since various parts of the body can be affected, there are a variety of symptoms that can occur either gradually over time or even suddenly.

Nature or Nurture:

While there is a fairly clear genetic link in MS, itís not time to run out for genetic testing. MS is more common in first or second generation family members, such as siblings or mother/daughters; however, having these genes may never lead to an active case of MS. Most researchers believe that an environmental agent must also be present or even a viral infection in the patientís past somehow activated the disease in the body. No specific viruses have been pinpointed, but there are several under current study such as flu, measles, and herpes.

Symptoms of MS:

There are so many symptoms, it could take up quite a bit of space to describe them. Physicians categorize the symptoms by the area of the body that is affected by MS. Listed below are the most common categories of symptoms that may appear with MS patients. Keep in mind, however, that these symptoms can mimic other diseases; and just because one or more symptoms are present does not mean that a person has MS. Multiple tests should be performed by not only the patientís general physician, but by a team of specialists who work closely with MS patients on a regular basis.

Vision Ė one of the earliest symptoms that may appear are visual effects. Some patients report blurred vision in one or more eyes. Sudden blindness may also occur. Ocular neuritis can be treated and may occur without reference to MS; it may also lead to recurring vision issues in patients who may later develop MS.

Movement Ė since nerves throughout the body may be affected, movement is a common impairment. Patients with movement issues may report loss of muscle strength or lessening precision on movements. The patient may have trouble holding on to items or difficulty making precise movements such as buttoning a shirt. Balance and coordination problems can also be present.

 

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