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Thursday, May 27, 2010

What is MS?

Immediately after someone finds out that I have MS and gets the "Isn't that what Montel Williams has?" question (Yes, it is by the way) and the confused sympathy "Oh I'm so sorry to hear that", I inevitably get "What is MS?" or "How does MS effect you?". Since I had this run in in real life recently I thought I would give you some more info about my "lovely" disease. Today I will go in to what Multiple Sclerosis is. Next week I'll go into how it effects me and the over 2 million others worldwide that have MS.

What is MS?
According to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS): Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.
Further the NMSS states: MS is Thought to be an Autoimmune Disease. This means the immune system incorrectly attacks the person’s healthy tissue.
The body’s own defense system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system. The nerve fibers themselves can also be damaged. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing the variety of symptoms that can occur.

In my words:  MS is a nasty disease that has a bunch of different symptoms for different people.
1st think of your nerves like wires, the important stuff is on the inside moving "electricity" from one point to another, that is the nerve fibers. Then you have the coating on the outside of the wire to protect the stuff inside so everything can move from point to point with out interruption, that is the myelin.  When something happens to that all important coating shorts can happen. Either the electricity doesn't make it from point to point or it's delayed getting to its destination.

So when my body decides to attack my nervous system it causes damage to the myelin.  This can just be a little knick that causes small interruptions all the way to where strips the whole coating and possibly even causes damage to the nerve beneath breaking the connection completely. Once the attack is over my body tries to fix the damage it caused but the best it can do is leave some scar tissue behind, these are lesions/sclerosis. Think of taping over the damaged wire with electrical tape, sometimes it works, sometimes it sort of works but not like it did before the damage, and sometimes it stops working all together. The same thing goes for nerves.

There are 4 courses the disease can normally take: Relapsing-Remitting, Primary-Progressive, Secondary-Progressive, and Progressive-Relapsing.

NMSS defines each course as follows:
Relapsing-Remitting (RRMS) - the most common disease course - is characterized by clearly defined attacks of worsening neurological function. These attacks - which are called relapses, flare-ups, or exacerbations - are followed by partial or complete recovery periods (remissions), during which symptoms improve and there is no apparent worsening or progression of disease. Approximately 85% of people with MS are initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS.
Primary-Progressive (PPMS) - This disease course is characterized by slowly worsening neurological function from the beginning - with no distinct relapses or remissions. The rate of progression may vary over time, with occasional plateaus and temporary minor improvements. Approximately 10% of people are diagnosed with primary-progressive MS.
Secondary-Progressive (SPMS) - follows an initial period of relapsing-remitting MS. As a person transitions from RRMS to SPMS, the disease begins to worsen more steadily, with or without occasional relapses, slight remissions, or plateaus. As long as the person continues to have relapses, the SPMS course is considered to be both progressive and relapsing.
Progressive-Relapsing (PRMS) - the least common disease course - is characterized by steadily worsening disease from the beginning, but with occasional relapses along the way. People with this form of MS may or may not experience some recovery following these attacks, but the disease continues to progress without remissions. PRMS is considered to be both a progressive and a relapsing form of the disease because people experience steady disease progression and relapses.

Since no two people have exactly the same experience of MS, the disease course may look very different from one person to another even within the same course.

What Causes MS?
While the cause (etiology) of MS is still not known, scientists believe that a combination of several factors may be involved. Studies are ongoing in the areas of immunology (the science of the body’s immune system), epidemiology (that looks at patterns of disease in the population), and genetics in an effort to answer this important question. Understanding what causes MS will be an important step toward finding more effective ways to treat it and—ultimately—cure it, or even prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Who Gets MS?
~MS is significantly more common (at least 2-3 times) in women than men.
~MS is not directly inherited, but genetics play an important role in who gets the disease.
~While most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, MS can appear in young children and teens as well as much older adults.
~MS is present in all parts of the world, but MS is more common at northern latitudes that are farther from the equator and less common in areas closer to the equator.
~MS occurs in most ethnic groups, including African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics/Latinos, but is more common in Caucasians of northern European ancestry.

So that is the break down of "What Is MS?"
Next week I will go into how MS effects me and others with the disease.

I need to thank The National MS Society for the sharing of information that I posted here today.
If you would like more information on MS or ways to support NMMS please visit The National Multiple Sclerosis Society's web page.

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