MS is a neurological disease in which myelin, the substance that protects neurons, is damaged, forming lesions in the central nervous system that interrupt the transmission of electrical currents to the rest of the body. Relapsing/remitting MS, the most common form at onset, causes flare-ups followed by periods of remission; there are several types of progressive MS in which symptoms worsen over time with no remissions.
Symptoms vary greatly from patient to patient — and from day to day — and include fatigue, numbness, visual impairment, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, cognitive impairment, tremors, vertigo, pain, depression, lack of coordination, paralysis, and blindness. Prognosis is near impossible.
MS is more common in women. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. Due to MRI, more young adults and children are being diagnosed with MS. It is estimated that 2.5 million people worldwide have MS; approximately 200 people are diagnosed with MS in the United States each week.
There is currently no single definitive test for MS. It is diagnosed through neurological exam, clinical history, and a series of tests, along with elimination of other diseases.
MS is not contagious. The cause remains a mystery; a combination of genetics and environmental factors is one avenue that researchers are pursuing. Research into the cause and cure is ongoing.
Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2.com’s Reform Health Policy blog in Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo.