1. What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
sclerosis is an unpredictable neurological disease that affects over a third of
a million people in the United States, according to the National Institutes of
Health. A new case is diagnosed every hour. It can cause blurred vision, loss
of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue
and even paralysis and blindness. These problems might be permanent, or they might
come and go.
2. Who gets MS?
as many women as men have MS, with the onset of symptoms occurring in the prime
of life years, ages 20 - 50. Studies indicate that genetic factors may make certain
individuals more susceptible to the disease, but there is no evidence that MS
is directly inherited. It occurs more commonly among Caucasians, especially those
of northern European ancestry, but people of African, Asian and Hispanic backgrounds
are not immune.
3. How many people have MS?
There are approximately one third of a million Americans with MS,
and every week about 200 new people are diagnosed with the disease-more than one
person an hour.
4. What are the typical symptoms
Symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary greatly from person
to person and from time to time in the same person. For instance: You may experience
abnormal fatigue, while another person might have severe vision problems. Even
severe symptoms may disappear completely and the person will regain lost functions.
In the worst cases, however, people can have partial or complete paralysis.
What causes MS symptoms?
In MS, symptoms result when inflammation
and breakdown occur in myelin, the protective insulation surrounding the nerve
fibers of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Myelin is destroyed
and replaced by scars of hardened "sclerotic" patches of tissue. Such
lesions are called "plaques," and appear in "multiple" places
within the central nervous system. This can be compared to a loss of insulating
material around an electrical wire, which interferes with the transmission of
signals. Some nerve fibers are actually severed in association with the loss of
6. Is MS fatal?
MS is not a fatal disease. People who have MS can be expected to have a normal
or near-normal life expectancy.
7. Does MS
always cause paralysis?
No. The majority of people with MS do not
become severely disabled. Two-thirds of people who have MS remain able to walk,
though many will need an aid, such as a cane or crutches.
Is MS contagious or inherited?
No. MS is neither contagious nor
directly inherited, although studies indicate that genetic factors may make certain
individuals more susceptible to the disease.
Can MS be cured?
Not yet. However, advances in treating and understanding
MS are achieved daily and the progress in research to find a cure is very encouraging.
In addition, many therapeutic and technological advances are helping people manage
symptoms and lead more productive lives. There are now several FDA-approved medications
that have been shown to affect the underlying course of MS.
What medications and treatments are available for MS?
Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends that you begin treatment with one of the
drugs, Avonex®, Betaseron®, or Copaxone®, as soon as you are diagnosed
with a relapsing form (the most common kind) of MS. These drugs help to lessen
the frequency and severity of MS attacks, reduce the accumulation of lesions in
the brain, slow progression of disability, and indications are decrease cognitive
dysfunction. Most recently, the FDA has also approved Novantrone (mitoxantrone
for injection concentrate) for reducing neurological disability and/or the frequency
of clinical relapses in patients with secondary-progressive, progressive-relapsing
or worsening relapsing-remitting MS. This is the first therapy approved in the
U.S. for secondary-progressive MS, and also offers new treatment options for others
experiencing worsening of the disease. In addition to these medications, there
are many therapies available to treat symptoms such as spasticity, pain, bladder
problems, fatigue and weakness. People should consult with a knowledgeable physician
to develop the most comprehensive approach to managing their MS.
Why is MS so difficult to diagnose?
In early MS, elusive symptoms
that come and go might indicate any number of possible disorders. Some people
have symptoms that are very difficult for physicians to interpret, and these people
must "wait and see." While no single laboratory test is yet available
to prove or rule out MS, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a great help in reaching
a definitive diagnosis.
12. What are the
different types of MS?
In an effort to develop a common language
when discussing, evaluating and treating MS, the Society conducted an international
survey among scientists who specialize in MS research and patient care. Analysis
of the responses has resulted in the following four definitions of disease categories,
which were introduced in 1996.
People with this type of disease experience clearly defined flare-ups (relapses)
or episodes of acute worsening of neurologic function. These are followed by partial
or complete recovery periods (remissions) between attacks that are free of disease
Frequency: Most common form of MS at time of initial diagnosis.
Approximately 85% at onset.
People with this type of MS experience a nearly continuous worsening of their
disease from the onset, with no distinct relapses or remissions. However, there
are variations in rate of progression over time, occasional plateaus, and temporary
Frequency: Relatively rare. Approximately 10% at onset
Characteristics: People with this type of MS experience
an initial period of relapsing-remitting disease (see above) followed by a steady
worsening disease course with or without occasional flare-ups, minor remissions
(recoveries) or plateaus.
Frequency: 50% of people with relapsing-remitting
MS develop this form of the disease within 10 years of initial diagnosis.
Characteristics: People with this type of MS experience
a steady worsening disease from the onset but also have clear acute flare-ups
(relapses), with or without recovery. In contrast to relapsing-remitting MS, the
periods between relapses are characterized by continuing disease progression.
Relatively rare. Approximately 5% at onset
The National Multiple
Sclerosis Society, www.nmss.org