Multiple Sclerosis

 

What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system. A portion of nerve cells (myelin) becomes damaged, affecting the brain and spinal cord. Messages between the brain, spinal cord, and body are disrupted which can lead to MS symptoms. 

Causes

The exact cause of MS is unknown. The immune system in a healthy person fights bacteria and unknown substances to protect the body. When a person has MS, the immune system appears to attack and damage healthy nerve cells by mistake. 

Who gets MS?

The reason why certain people get MS and others do not is not completely known. There are certain risk factors for developing MS:

  • Women are more likely to develop MS than men
  • The disease usually begins between the ages of 20 and 40
  • There is a slightly increased risk of developing MS if a parent or sibling has MS
  • MS is more common in certain geographic areas such as Europe and northern North America
  • Caucasians, especially of northern European descent, are more likely to develop MS
  • Certain infections and autoimmune diseases may increase the risk of developing MS

Symptoms

There are many possible symptoms of MS and they are different from person to person.  Many people only have limited symptoms.  A few possible symptoms include:

  • Vision problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness and Tingling
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Thinking, memory, or speech problems

Managing MS

There is no cure for MS. The goals for managing the disease include treatment of MS attacks, managing symptoms, and taking medications that reduce the chances of future attacks. It is important to communicate with your health care provider if a symptom or side effect is bothersome or getting worse. Your provider may be able to offer treatment.

Medications

Treating MS Attacks

The most common medication to treat MS attacks are corticosteroids. They reduce the immune response and inflammation. Examples include prednisone and methylprednisolone. Corticosteroids are available orally (by mouth) and also as injections.

Preventing MS Attacks and Treating MS Symptoms

Certain people need to take regular medications to decrease the number of attacks. These medications are available as injections and orally. The injections include interferons known as Avonex, Betaseron, Extavia, Rebif, and Plegridy. Another common MS medication is Copaxone (glatiramer acetate) which is injected under the skin (subcutaneous). Tysabri (natalizumab), mitoxantrone, and Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) are medications that may be given in a health care provider’s office.

Recently, oral medications have become available to treat MS. These medications include Aubagio (teriflunomide), Gilenya (fingolimod), and Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate).  

Resources

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America
Multiple Sclerosis Foundation
National Multiple Sclerosis Society