Multiple sclerosis is a medical illness which affects the brain and the nerves. This problem can cause disturbances in balance, coordination, movement and vision. In order for us to understand this, we may picture the anatomy of the brain and the nerves. Each nerve in the body is covered by a layer of protein which is called myelin. Myelin helps protect the nerve and helps in the sending of electric signals in the body from the brain. In multiple sclerosis, there is damage to the myelin sheath so that the signals from the brain and the spinal cord are disrupted. This then further brings about symptoms such as unilateral loss of vision, difficulty with balance and coordination, and feeling very tired during the day.
There are three common types of multiple sclerosis. Relapsing multiple sclerosis is characterized by periods of mild symptoms which may disappear after some time. These periods with no symptoms are termed as remissions and may last for days, weeks or even months. These relapses will then be followed up by a sudden flare-up of symptoms such as relapse. The relapse can occur after a few weeks or a few months. After around 10 years, around half of these people with relapsing multiple sclerosis will soon develop secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis leads to gradual worsening of symptoms with fewer or even no periods of remission.
On the other hand, primary progressive multiple sclerosis is the least common form of multiple sclerosis. In this form of multiple sclerosis, there is worsening of symptoms until there are no longer periods of remission.
Multiple sclerosis is said to be an autoimmune condition. An autoimmune condition results from a disturbance in the immune system of the body because the body attacks its own tissues. In the case of multiple sclerosis, the body's own immune system attacks the myelin sheath that covers the nerves. This can cause damage, thickening and hardening of the various parts of the brain and the spinal column so that the signals passing through the spinal cord to the brain are disturbed. The reason for this autoimmune process is still unknown. Multiple sclerosis usually first develops between the ages of 15 and 45 years old, and is twice as common in women as in men. It is also common among whites. Recent research has led to the discoveries of various modalities that can improve the quality of life of people living with multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis is not dangerous by itself however once severe it can lead to complications such as pneumonia. Currently, there is no definite treatment for multiple sclerosis but there are a number of treatments that can help the patient manage his or her symptoms. Disease-modifying drugs can be used to treat relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis and secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. These drugs can slow down the progression of symptoms and reduce relapses. However, most of these drugs may not be suitable for all patients with multiple sclerosis. Other treatments for multiple sclerosis include physiotherapy and steroid injections, which can relieve symptoms and elevate quality of life. There are no known treatments which can really slow down the progression of primary progressive multiple sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis, Obesity and Contraceptives
Two new studies that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, April 26 to May 3, 2014 has found out that the so-called “obesity hormone” leptin and hormones used for birth control can lead to multiple sclerosis. The study found out that women who used oral contraceptives were 35% more likely to have multiple sclerosis than those who do not use oral contraceptives. More studies should be done to resolve these issues.
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