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Multiple Sclerosis: An Unpredictable Disease

December 6, 2010

In some people, it is a mild illness. In others, it can lead to permanent disability. This is the nature of multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable disease that affects 300,000 people in the United States alone.

Myelin is a fatlike substance that covers the nerve fiber found in the brain and spinal cord. It is an essential part of the nervous system since it enables the nerves to carry electrical impulses to and from the brain where they can be acted upon by the appropriate part of the body.

In multiple sclerosis (MS), myelin is damaged for unknown reasons. As a result, normal nerve impulse transmission is impaired and the person experiences a variety of symptoms depending on which part of the brain and spinal cord is affected.

"An electrical short circuit develops, and normal electrical impulses cannot be carried by the nerves. The type of symptoms that result depends on where in the brain and spinal cord this process takes place, but usually, multiple sites are involved. Myelin has some ability to repair itself, but with repeated attacks of inflammation, scarring (sclerosis) takes place and per¬manent loss of function may result," according to Dr. Timothy A. Pedley in “The Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Complete-Home Medical Guide.”

MS is believed to be an autoimmune disorder wherein the body develops antibodies to attack myelin. Some say a virus is behind this disorder. The victims fall between the ages of 20 and 40, and are usually women. Symptoms may appear slowly or rapidly and the dis¬ease may disappear from time to time.

In the early stages, MS may be marked by blurred or double vision, difficulty walking, weakness, numbness or a tingling sensation. Later, the patient may suffer from tremors, loss of bladder or bowel control, diffi¬culty speaking, and impotence.

"It is not possible to provide a typical picture of multiple sclerosis. Some of the common symptoms, however, include loss of vision in one eye, double vision, loss of coordination and trembling of a hand, instability in walking, spasticity, loss of bladder con¬trol, and peculiar spontaneous sensations such as pins-and-needles feeling over part of the body, called paresthesias. At first the patient may have only intermittent symptoms. Since the physical examination at this stage may be completely normal, the patient's complaints may be dismissed initially as 'pyschosomatic' or 'hysterical,’” Pedley explained.

While some patients may recover dramatically, MS is an incurable disease and the survival rate of sufferers can fall anywhere from a few weeks to 50 years. For relief of symptoms, the doctor may prescribe cortisone drugs together with physical therapy to retain muscle function.

"Adequate rest and sleep are important. Complications such as bed sores, contractures, spasms, and blad¬der and kidney infections can usually be prevented with physiotherapy and good nursing care. Excessive heat should be avoided. Psychotherapy may help in re¬habilitation. Very strenuous and fatiguing exercise is not beneficial and may be harmful," said Kurt Butler and Dr. Lynn Rayner of the University Of Hawaii in “The Best Medicine.”


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