Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurologic disorder that occurs when the immune system attacks the nerves of the central nervous system (CNS) that consists of the brain and spinal cord1. In MS, the immune system breaks down the myelin sheath, a protective layer that encapsulates the nerves of the body’s nervous system. Nerves send electrical signals to and from the brain through the spinal cord. Myelin allows these signals to travel rapidly and efficiently along the pathway of nerve cells. Unfortunately, when the myelin sheath is attacked by the immune system, the signals are weakened or blocked completely causing abnormal functioning of the brain and spinal cord. A person with MS will initially experience numbness or tingling in the limbs, generalized weakness, bladder or bowel problems, and visual disturbances. MS usually occurs in adults between the ages of 30-50 and women are diagnosed two to three times more often than men.
Multiple sclerosis means hardening of scar tissue in multiple areas of the body. The immune system’s attack on the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells causes inflammation that leads to scar tissue formation. This scar tissue, called plaques or lesions by physicians, affects multiple areas of the nervous system including2.
- optic nerves
- the cerebellum (controls balance and coordination of movement)
- spinal cord
- white matter in a few regions of the brain
- brain stem
The development of lesions breaks down the nerve fibers and slows down the action of electrical impulses. The degeneration of nerve cells greatly affects the ability of the body to carry out important functions and causes a variety of symptoms:
- Bladder problems –Loss of bladder control is an early sign of MS
- Bowel problems –Constipation and bowel incontinence
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Emotional changes and depression
- Learning and memory problems – Difficulties in concentration, learning, and planning
- Lhermitte’s sign – A sudden sensation (similar to an electric shock) that travels down the back of the neck and into the spine that can radiate out into the arms and legs.
- Motor difficulties
- Muscle weakness
- Pain – Neuropathic pain caused by nerve damage and muscle pain caused by weakness and stiffness
- Sexual dysfunction
- Muscle spasms – Nhis is an early sign of MS due to the damage of nerve fibers along the spinal cord that can cause painful muscle spasms throughout the body
- Vision problems