What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system in which myelin and myelin-forming cells are destroyed. Myelin is a highly organized, cylindrical-like spiral of membrane that surrounds axons at regular intervals and serves to speed electrical conduction and reduce the energy requirements of neurons and axons in the brain and spinal cord. The initial insult that leads to destruction of myelin is unknown but both autoimmunity and primary degeneration of oligodendrocytes that make myelin are contending theories.

Multiple sclerosis most commonly affects young adults but children and older adults can be affected. Women are affected more commonly than men. Both environmental and genetic factors contribute to the disease. The initial symptoms are varied and can involve vision, balance, strength, coordination, and many other aspects of nervous system function. With disease progression, the cumulative loss of myelin and axons may lead to long-term disability, making early diagnosis and treatment initiation essential to protect the brain and spinal cord from injury.

The diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is typically made by recognition of a characteristic clinical syndrome and a characteristic pattern of lesions on the MRI. Sometimes spinal fluid is used to improve the specificity of the diagnosis. Treatment is based on a careful consideration of patient characteristics as well as effectiveness and safety of individual drugs. Close clinical and MRI monitoring allow us to determine the effectiveness of treatment. We also pay close attention to other factors that can influence MS, including nutrition, exercise, mental health, tobacco use, and alternative medicine. Our overall commitment is to keep our patients functioning at the highest level possible.

Causes

There are many possible causes of MS, including the following:

  • viruses
  • autoimmune disorders
  • environmental factors
  • genetic factors