MS Affects Everyone Differently
Understanding the details can help
MS is a progressive disease that causes damage to the central nervous system, manifested in outward and silent symptoms. Although there is no cure for MS, many treatments are available that can help slow progression of the disease.
How MS affects the body
Relapsing MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease, which means that instead of defending the body against harmful invaders (such as viruses or bacteria), the immune system attacks the body itself.
Specifically, MS affects the cells of the central nervous system (CNS). Your brain contains nerve cells called neurons, and the nerve fibers are protected and insulated by what is called the myelin sheath. The myelin helps neurons send electrical signals to and from the brain, telling the body what to do.
With MS, immune cells cross the blood-brain barrier, cause inflammation within the CNS, and attack the myelin sheath. This is thought to interfere with the ability of neurons to send signals between the brain and the body. When your brain cannot communicate with the nerves and muscles the way it's supposed to, various symptoms of MS (such as vision problems and difficulty with muscle movement, coordination, and balance) can occur.
What causes relapsing MS?
MS is thought to affect more than 2 million people across the globe. About 85% of those are diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS, the most common form of the disease. It is about 2 to 3 times more common in women than in men. An MS diagnosis generally occurs between 20 and 50 years of age, but it can also happen when you're younger or older.
Nobody knows exactly what causes MS, but research is being conducted to investigate:
- Environmental factors
- Infectious agents (such as bacteria or a virus)
- Genetic predisposition (a family history of MS)
- Ethnicity: although anyone can get relapsing MS, a large percentage of people with MS are of Northern European descent