Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, inflammatory disease that attacks the central nervous system. The fatty myelin sheaths around the axons of the brain and spinal cord are damaged, leading to scarring. The beginning of the disease usually occurs in young adults, most commonly in women. In the United States today, there are 400,000 cases of MS, with 200 additional people diagnosed each week.
The ability for the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate is affected by MS. Nerve cells are able to communicate by sending electrical signals down axon fibers, which are insulated by myelin. With Multiple Sclerosis, the immune system attacks the myelin, leading to the axon’s inability to conduct effective signals.
MS takes on two variations of symptoms, which begin as neurological and progress to physical and cognitive disability. New symptoms can occur in discrete, relapsing attacks or slowly accumulating over time. They may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. Symptoms may disappear completely in between attacks, but the neurological problems will remain, especially as the disease progresses.
Currently, there is no known cause or cure to Multiple Sclerosis. Understanding what causes MS will be an important step toward finding more effective ways to treat it, cure it, or even prevent it from occurring in the first place. Treatment is available for three reasons: to return function after an attack, prevent new attacks, and prevent disability.