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About MS What is MS, and how does it affect the body?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that damages the myelin sheath, or insulating material, that surrounds the nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
The myelin is lost in multiple areas, leaving plaques or scars called scleroses (which is where the name “Multiple Sclerosis” comes from). This damage or loss of myelin can prevent nerve signals from being conducted, or can cause those signals to be conducted too slowly.
Multiple sclerosis is characterized by attacks – “flare-ups” or exacerbations – which may be associated with plaques that prevent conduction of nerve impulses in the CNS. A period of exacerbation is also known as a relapse.
By using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), your neurologist can track the effect drug therapy has on the development, or lack of, new lesions.
How MS affects people over time
No two cases of multiple sclerosis are alike.
While many people living with MS are affected with some level of disability, this is not true of everyone ... and among those who do have a level of disability, this level varies greatly.
Studies have shown that a majority of persons living with MS lead fairly normal lives. MS symptoms may fluctuate, and they may progress in severity. And many people have periods of no apparent symptoms that may last many years, but lesions can still be forming in the CNS undetected.
Because MS can vary so widely from one person to another, no predictions of the outcome for any individual can be made. Statistically, however, a person with MS today has good reason for optimism – especially with early treatment to minimize the number of attacks.
Who gets MS?
Multiple sclerosis is generally diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 20 and 40. Women develop MS at a rate of two to three times that of men. In the United States, the disease is more common among Caucasians, especially those of northern European ancestry. MS occurs most frequently in “temperate zones” of neither extreme heat nor cold.
In the United States, it is estimated that approximately 350,000 people are living with multiple sclerosis, and nearly 200 cases are diagnosed every week.
More information about MS
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