What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (often abbreviated as MS) is a neurological condition and autoimmune disease that affects the Central Nervous System (CNS) causing problems with muscular control and vision.
Within the CNS, nerve fibres are coated in a layer of protein called myelin. This protein protects the nerves to allow communication between the brain and the rest of the body. In MS, the body’s immune system inappropriately attacks its own nervous system as it does not recognise it as being part of the person’s own body; instead it sees it as a foreign entity and the inflammation which results from the attack leads to the destruction of the myelin sheath that protects the nerve fibres. The damage caused interrupts healthy communication between the brain and the rest of the body, slowing down or completely stopping sent messages.
This failure in the immune system may be as a result of exposure to a foreign animal protein that closely resembles an individual’s own tissue protein. The main protein of milk is casein which is anti-genetically similar to certain human protein. On subsequent exposure to the animal protein, e.g. cow’s milk an antigen-antibody reaction occurs between the immune defense and the offending antigen and against its own tissues.
Multiple Sclerosis follows two main patterns initially; either as episodes lasting for weeks followed by improvement or as a progressive deterioration over time without periods of recovery.
Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis
Relapsing remitting MS, symptoms come in episodes known as relapses that can last anywhere from a couple of days to a few months. These relapses are followed by a remission which varies in length.
Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis
Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) is a stage of MS which comes after relapsing remitting MS in many cases. On average, around 65% of people with relapsing remitting MS will develop secondary progressive MS. Secondary progressive MS is characterised by a worsening of disability, rather than by relapses followed by recovery. Some people may experience relapses however full recovery from the symptoms does not occur.
Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS)
Primary-progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) is characterized by a steady worsening of symptoms over time with no periods of remission.
The disease follows these main courses but is very unpredictable in its effects and progression varies greatly.
Who it Affects
Multiple sclerosis affects around 2.5 million people worldwide. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20-40, but it can affect younger and older people too. Roughly three times as many women have MS as men, although the reasons as to why are unclear.
Although it is not fully known what causes the autoimmune disease to develop, research has indicated that a combination of genetic and environmental factors are involved. For example, MS is almost unknown among indigenous people in the Southern Hemisphere and even people who move from the northern to the southern countries appear to lose their propensity to develop MS.
In common with other autoimmune diseases, specific genes have been linked with MS, including differences in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system. Despite this genetic susceptibility, MS is not considered to be a hereditary disease.
Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
As the CNS is connected to the whole body and determines all bodily functions, symptoms can vary widely depending on what part of the CNS is affected and the function of the damaged nerve, from fatigue (one of the most common symptoms) to difficulties with walking to vision problems.
In about 20% of cases MS onset affects the eyes, and optic nerves. The effects of optic neuritis vary, ranging from blurred vision to complete blindness.
It often affects only one eye but can affect both, with some people noticing blurring in the centre of their vision or a blind spot. Discolouration is common, with colours become darker or faded, Phosphenes, or light flashes, also can occur upon moving the eye. Optic neuritis has been known to cause eye pain. In about 85% of cases loss of vision recovers.
In some cases, eye movement problems can occur when nerves that allow communication from the brain to the eye, to control movement, are damaged. This can cause eyes to move out of alignment or stop the eyes from moving fluidly. As a result, double vision (also called Diploplia) and involuntary eye movements (also called Nystagmus) can also occur.
Multiple Sclerosis Treatment
There is no cure for MS, but in “relapsing remitting MS” treatments can relieve symptoms and reduce the number of relapses someone has. Their availability may be limited depending on their perceived “cost effectiveness”.
As there is no longer any doubt that inflammation plays a central role in the disease it is likely that measures to control systemic inflammation will have a beneficial effect e.g. a course of a high-dose steroid may help speed up your recovery. Steroids are thought to suppress your immune system so that it no longer attacks the myelin in your central nervous system. They may also help reduce the amount of fluid around any nerve fibre damage. While steroids can be useful in helping you recover from a relapse, they do not affect the outcome of the relapse. They also do not alter the course of the disease or prevent further relapses.
Alternative therapies have also been suggested. Assessment of these alternative medicines has been difficult in controlled trials because of the relapsing nature of MS.
As there is no longer any doubt that inflammation plays a central role in the disease it is likely that measures to control systemic inflammation will have a beneficial effect.
Multiple Sclerosis Prevention
A healthy lifestyle may aid in preventing the development of any disease or condition. A diet rich in good quality fresh raw fruits and vegetables will help provide the antioxidants necessary to neutralise the free radicals which cause the inflammation. For many years I have been recommending a concept which allows patients to achieve this. Sign up for my eBook to find out more.
- Multiple sclerosis: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Multiple-sclerosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- What is MS: http://www.mssociety.org.uk/what-is-ms (includes video)