What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that causes lesions in the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves). It is characterized by a reaction of the immune system that causes it to turn against itself, leading to the neutralization of the protective sheath of neurons (myelin). The nerve cells that are attacked have significant difficulty in driving the nerve impulse, preventing it from reaching the organs.
Over two million people are affected by the disease worldwide. MS most often occurs in young adults between the ages of 25 and 35 years old. For some unexplained reason, two out of three cases involve women.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary from person to person and change over time. They depend mainly on the area of the central nervous system affected by inflammation, making each case unique. That said, the following symptoms are usually found:
- sensory disorders (pain, tingling, cold sensation)
- visual disturbances (loss of vision, double vision, cataracts)
- muscular disorders (paralysis, loss of muscle strength)
People with multiple sclerosis, however, do not have all of these symptoms. MS evolves through relapses, that is to say, periods of appearance and disappearance of symptoms. In general, a relapse lasts between two to six weeks.
Diagnosis and Evolution of Multiple Sclerosis
It is very difficult today to obtain a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. There is currently no reliable test, and wrongful diagnoses are numerous. The best test is to perform an MRI scan in order to detect the location and number of neuronal lesions caused by the disease. It is commonly accepted that there must be at least two relapses before a diagnosis can be confirmed.
What makes MS difficult to diagnose is that is evolution is very slow, and spreads over several decades. Two main forms of MS are distinguished. The remittent form represents 85% of early forms. MS evolves through successive episodes without progression of the disease. In the progressive form (primary or secondary), the disease progresses gradually, with outbreaks being rare. Following that, the bodily handicap strongly sets in.
Causes of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is a disease whose causes are still poorly understood. If MS is not hereditary, there are still many predisposing genetic factors. Researchers have identified 29 genes that could potentially be involved in the onset of the disease.
Environmental factors are also taken into account. The degree of sunshine has an influence on the development of the disease. As such, the countries farthest from the equator are the most at risk. Areas where the disease is most prevalent are Scandinavia, Canada, and the northern United States.
Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis
As of today, there is unfortunately no cure for multiple sclerosis. Nevertheless, medical research has found ways to prevent outbreaks and slow down the spread of the disease.
There are several types of treatment available for MS. Immunomodulators are first-line therapies designed to stimulate the activity of immune cells. On average, they reduce the frequency of relapses by 30%. Immunosuppresants are only used in the more severe forms of the disease. A very aggressive treatment, they have serious side effects and are therefore prescribed in small doses.