What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
An autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS), multiple sclerosis (MS) causes inflammation that damages nerves in the brain and spinal cord, as well as the optic nerves. Specifically, the myelin sheath — a fatty substance that insulates nerves — is harmed, as are the nerves themselves and the cells responsible for making myelin.
When the myelin and nerve fibers are harmed or destroyed, messaging within the CNS is disrupted and may even stop. This disruption can impact everything from memory to movement to speech and vision.
Damaged areas of myelin, or areas where myelin has been completely eaten away, show up on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as plaques or lesions, hence the name “multiple sclerosis,” which translates to “scar tissue in multiple areas.”
Currently, MS has no known cause, but some populations are more likely than others to develop the condition. Typically diagnosed between ages 15 and 60, MS impacts twice as many women as men. Although it affects all ethnic groups, MS is most prevalent in Caucasians of northern European descent and tends to be more common in regions of the world that are further away from the equator.
While MS is not hereditary, the risk is also higher for individuals with a first-degree relative who has the disease. For example, someone living in the United States has an estimated 0.1 percent chance of developing MS, but if he or she has a child, parent or sibling with MS, the risk increases to 2.5 to 5 percent.
Although people with MS live on average seven years less than people without the condition, MS is not fatal, except in very rare cases. Medical breakthroughs, as well as healthy lifestyles, have increased longevity for people with the disease.
When to Seek a Specialist
Some symptoms of MS, such as itching and tingling, may be easy to ignore for a short period of time. But when an individual begins experiencing symptoms that interfere with quality of life, such as loss of bladder and bowel function, sudden blindness, or the inability to move a hand or foot, he or she should talk with a specialist. A primary care physician can help determine if these symptoms may be due to MS and make a referral to a neurologist, who can make a proper diagnosis using the following tools:
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
- Neurological tests that evaluate variables such as balance and muscle coordination
Why Temple Health?
Neurologists of the Multiple Sclerosis Program offer a full spectrum of services to diagnose and treat MS. These doctors are dedicated to understanding the complexities of MS and providing the latest treatment options to improve each patient’s quality of life.
Ready for an Appointment?
If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of multiple sclerosis, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.
Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat multiple sclerosis.