Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease that causes the central nervous system to break down over time. It affects about 350,000 people in the United States. It can appear at any age, but is usually diagnosed in patients between 20 and 50 years old. Caucasians are twice as likely to get it, and women tend to get it earlier than men.
People with MS have trouble with normal functions of the body because the disease causes nerve damage. Myelin–a substance that covers and supports the nerves—disintegrates, causing nerve impulses to slow down and scar tissue to form. As MS progresses, patients may experience problems with:
- Coordination and balance
- Muscle spasms and numbness
Half of all patients with MS experience the following symptoms:
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
The exact cause of MS is unknown, but a popular theory is that it’s caused by a virus. The idea is that the infection changes the immune system so that the body thinks that myelin is an invader. It then attacks and destroys it.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
There are three main types of MS:
- Primary-Progressive MS: This type affects 10%-20% of people with MS. Patients with this type experience a constant deterioration in physical abilities after symptoms begin.
- Relapsing-Remitting MS: This is the most common type, affecting 65%-80% of people with MS. Patients with this type experience flare-ups, and then symptoms decrease or go away completely. Remission can last years before symptoms return.
- Secondary-Progressive MS: Half of people with relapsing-remitting MS will have this type within 10 years. Patients with this type experience a continuous decline in function, along with recurring flare-ups.