Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
|Multiple Sclerosis (MS)|
When most of us think of MS (Multiple Sclerosis), we think of people in wheelchairs severely disabled. However, in reality only very few of the 2.5 million MS sufferers worldwide (85,000 in the UK) can be recognized in that way; many others will be people you see every day without even knowing.
With around 200 people being newly diagnosed with MS every day, there is no known ‘cause’. However, it is more common among northern European and is most commonly diagnosed between 20 and 50 years old. There are thought to be genetic factors influencing a person’s likelihood of developing MS but it is known not to be hereditary. Whilst there is no known cause,
Multiple Sclerosis is a condition in which your own body attacks the protective tissue (called the myelin) around the nerve fibers of your central nervous system. As it attacks the myelin, it leaves hard scars or lesions around the nerves. Myelin is responsible for the smooth transition of the ‘messages’ that travel along your nerves, and as such, the lesions interrupt that transmission and stop the messages from getting through smoothly. If this is hard to conceptualize, imagine your central nervous system as your home electrical system and the myelin as the plastic around a cable. If damage occurs to the cable plastic (like a rat gnawing through it) the electricity does not flow smoothly and the light bulb will flicker on and off.
There are 4 types of MS. Most people are initially diagnosed with Relapse Remitting MS, in which there is a flare-up of cases (‘relapses’) followed by periods when the patient is completely or partially symptom-free (‘remission’). Most patients go on to develop Secondary Progressive MS where the condition and symptoms continue to get worse and the level of disability increases. Some patients are diagnosed with Primary Progressive MS – in which the condition progresses rapidly with no clear periods of remission. Very few patients are diagnosed with Benign MS – where they are completely symptom-free for at least 10 years following a short period of relapse.
The symptoms of MS vary greatly, with many patients suffering different symptoms at different times in their illness. These tend to include difficulties with balance, bladder and bowel control, memory recall, and extreme fatigue. Other common symptoms include muscle tremors, spasms and weakness, emotional and mood changes, and distortions of vision.
Once you have MS, it cannot be cured and remains with you for life. Thankfully, however, several treatments can improve a person’s condition and severity of symptoms. There are 5 ‘ disease-altering medications’ available, 4 of which are registered and widely available, and one new drug has recently been approved by NICE. These drugs reduce the number of lesions and also initial evidence suggests that they might slow down the progression of the disease. Many patients also turn to alternative and complementary therapies, with 50-70% of sufferers trying alternatives to relieve their symptoms. NICE has issued guidance that supports the use of complementary therapy as part of a care package for MS sufferers. Scientists are also currently researching the potential for stem cell treatment to repair the myelin damage caused by MS.