Multiple Sclerosis (MS) - Topic Overview
What is multiple sclerosis?
often called MS, is a disease that affects the
central nervous system-the brain and spinal cord. It
can cause problems with muscle control and strength, vision, balance, feeling,
Your nerve cells have a protective covering called
myelin. Without myelin, the brain and spinal cord can't communicate with the
nerves in the rest of the body. MS gradually destroys myelin in patches
throughout the brain and spinal cord, causing muscle weakness and other
symptoms. These patches of damage are called lesions.
different for each person. You may go through life with only minor problems. Or
you may become seriously disabled. Most people are somewhere in between.
Generally, MS follows one of four courses:
Whatever your symptoms are, treatment and self-care can
help you maintain your quality of life. There is no cure for MS, but it is not
fatal except in rare cases.
What causes MS?
The exact cause is unknown, but
most experts believe MS is an autoimmune disease. In this kind of disease, the
body’s defenses, called the
immune system, mistakenly attack normal tissues. In
MS, the immune system attacks the central nervous system-the
brain and spinal cord .
Experts don't know why MS happens to some
people but not others. There may be a
genetic link, because the disease seems to run in
families. Where you grew up may also play a role. MS is more common in those
who grew up in colder regions that are farther away from the equator.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms depend on which
parts of the brain and spinal cord are damaged and how bad the damage is. Early
symptoms may include:
- Muscle problems. You may feel weak and stiff,
and your limbs may feel heavy. You may drag your leg when you walk or have trouble lifting your foot (foot drop). You may
drop things more than usual and be less coordinated.
problems. Your vision may be blurred or hazy. You may have eyeball pain
(especially when you move your eyes), blindness, or double vision. Optic
neuritis-sudden loss of vision that is often painful-is a fairly common first
- Sensory problems. You may feel tingling, a
pins-and-needles sensation, or numbness. You may feel a band of tightness
around your trunk or limbs or a feeling of electricity moving down your back
- Balance problems. You may feel lightheaded or dizzy or
feel like you're spinning.