What is Multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the nerves of the brain and the spinal cord degenerate. Myelin sheaths act as covering for nerves. Inflammation causes myelin to disappear which in turn damages the nerves.
Causes of Multiple Sclerosis
The exact cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown but researchers suspect it is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system perceives myelin as an intruder and attacks it. Sometimes myelin recovers after the attack but some nerves lose their myelin covering causing scars in which material gets deposited. Genetic and environmental factors may also play a role in multiple sclerosis. Relatives of people with multiple sclerosis stand a higher risk of acquiring this disease. Environmental factors such as lack of sunlight, stress, smoking and exposure to toxins have been investigated but no clear conclusions have been attained.
Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis
It is not easy to diagnose multiple sclerosis as it has symptoms common to other diseases. The McDonald criteria which is in use now include clinical, radiologic and laboratory data collected from lesions caused by multiple sclerosis. Diagnostic tools commonly used are neuroimaging, analysis of cerebrospinal fluid , magnetic resonance imaging , testing of cerebrospinal fluid etc.
Medication for Multiple Sclerosis
Interferons, medication that alters the immune system have been used to manage multiple sclerosis. They come in different types such as alpha, beta and gamma. They protect the immune system against intruders and beta interferons have been found to be effective for managing multiple sclerosis. The following are medications available:
- Interferon beta-1b (Betaseron® and Extavia®)-for relapsing forms of MS
- Interferon beta-1a (Rebif®) -for relapsing forms of MS
- Interferon beta-1a (Avonex®)- for relapsing forms of MS
- Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone)-for reducing the frequency of relapses in RR-MS
- Natalizumab (Tysabri®)-for relapsing forms of MS
- Mitoxantrone (Novantrone®)-for SP-MS, PR-MS and worsening RR-MS
- Fingolimod (Gilenya®)- first oral medication to treat MS
Prognosis of Multiple Sclerosis
The subtype of the disease, sex of individual, age, symptoms and the physical disabilities of the person determines the prognosis for a person suffering from MS. Deaths in persons having MS is more often related to the consequences of the disease. Many patients lose their ability to walk 10 years from the onset of the disease. Suicides are also common although 40% of people live up to 70 years.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
- Disturbed vision
- Weakness in limbs
- Loss of sensation
- Speech Impediment
- Attention deficits
- Impairment in judgment
- Memory loss
Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis
A number of issues are to be considered by the patient when treating multiple sclerosis such as reducing the number of attacks, speedy recovery, slowing down the progression of the disease etc. It is best if treatment is started at the onset of the disease. Disease modifying drugs can be taken once relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis is established. Once the patient and the physician have agreed on the issues that need to be attended to first, treatment can begin. Constant monitoring is required to keep side effects in check. Patients can also look for alternative solutions if they feel the side effects of conventional medicine are too many to bear. Support groups, counseling and family members can also help the person suffering from multiple sclerosis to cope with the changes that are going to happen in his/her life.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
When a person experiences a sudden deterioration in physical abilities ranging from mild to severe in an attack it is known as exacerbation of multiple sclerosis. In the relapsing remitting type the person experiences a series of attacks followed by complete or partial disappearance of symptoms. When there is a continuous deterioration of physical abilities it is known as primary progressive. In secondary progressive type, physical disabilities accumulate and relapses become rare.