What is multiple sclerosis? Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic,
often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system.
Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or progress
to include paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity
and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be
predicted. Today, advances in research and treatment are giving
hope to those affected by the disease.
MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease. The body's own defense
system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and
protects the nerve fibers of the central nervous system. The
damaged myelin may form scar tissue known as sclerosis. Sometimes
the nerve fiber is also damaged. When any part of the myelin
sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses to
and from the brain are distorted or interrupted.
MS is not a fatal disease. Individuals have normal or near-normal
life expectancies. Most people with MS learn to cope with the
disease and live full, productive lives.
The symptoms of MS may include tingling,
numbness, painful sensations, slurred speech, and blurred or
double vision. Some people experience muscle weakness, poor
balance, poor coordination, muscle tightness or spasticity, or
paralysis, which may be temporary or permanent. Problems with
bladder, bowel or sexual dysfunction are common, as is fatigue.
MS can cause cognitive changes such as forgetfulness or
difficulty concentrating. It can also cause mood swings.
Symptoms may come and go, appear in any combination and be mild,
moderate or severe. There are medications and therapies to help
with most of these symptoms.
Multiple sclerosis is not always easy to detect
or diagnose because symptoms may come and go. In addition, other
diseases of the central nervous system have some of the same
symptoms. No single neurological or laboratory test can confirm
or rule out multiple sclerosis.
Recent advances in medical imaging, particularly magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI), are helping to clarify diagnosis. A
conclusive or definitive diagnosis requires evidence of many
patches of scar tissue in different parts of the central nervous
system, and at least two separate attacks of the disease. A
definitive diagnosis can take several months. Sometimes it takes
Today, there are three federally approved
medications that treat multiple sclerosis: Avonex, Betaseron and
Copaxone. All three drugs have been shown to be effective in
slowing the natural course of the disease. The National Multiple
Sclerosis Society recommends treatment with one of them for
most people who have a definite diagnosis of the disease, with a
relapsing-remitting course as early as possible. Research on
treatment of progressive MS may lead to an expanded role for
For more information about MS, call 1-800-FIGHT-MS
(1-800-344-4867) or visit websites for the National Multiple
Sclerosis Society or the North Central Texas Chapter of the Multiple