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Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

nerve.jpgMultiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease, whereby the body destroys its own myelin (protective coating surrounding the nerves in the central nervous system). Because the myelin is damaged, messages moving along the nerve are transmitted more slowly or not at all.

Areas of damaged myelin can be viewed through Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning and are known as plaques. These plaques, or sites of damage, can cause MS symptoms.

At this time, it is not known what causes MS. It is known that MS affects approximately one in one thousand people in North America, usually in early adulthood (O'Connor, 2002). There are two main classifications of the disease: progressive and relapsing remitting. Within the first classification there are two more differentiations, primary progressive and secondary progressive.

Primary Progressive MS (PPMS) is characterized by a slow and continuous deterioration from the beginning, while Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) becomes progressive following a course of attacks and recoveries. Within the second classification there are also two differentiations, benign and relapsing remitting. People with benign MS suffer the least amount of disability and seem to recover fully from their attacks, while people with relapsing remitting MS (RRMS) do not recover as well from attacks but do enjoy remissions. The percentage of people suffering from these types of MS at any one time breaks down to 10% benign MS, 40% RRMS, 10%  PPMS, and 40% SPMS (M.S. Freedman, personal communication, November 21, 2002).

After about ten years, approximately 50% of people with RRMS go on to develop SPMS (Herndon, 2002). Just as the names imply, this means that the course of the disease changes from one that is characterized by plateaus and exacerbations (relapsing remitting) to one that progresses at a steadier rate (secondary progressive). There is some speculation that RRMS and SPMS are actually the same form of the disease, as 80% of people who have RRMS go on to the SP stage (O'Connor, 2002). One wonders if people with RRMS had an infinite amount of time on earth, whether that number would increase to 100%. It may also be difficult to identify when a person transitions from RRMS to SPMS. There are currently no definitive tests to help with this kind of diagnosis.

Most current research is devoted to identifying ways that could slow down, or halt the progress from RRMS to SPMS. In fact, many new drug therapies have been successful in treating the symptoms of people with RRMS. However, studies have indicated that SPMS does not respond as well, if at all, to medications used to treat RRMS (Lynch, S.G., 2000; O'Connor, P. Ed., 2002; Walker J.E., & Margolin, S.B., 2001). Because of the lack of effective drug therapies for people with SMPS there is a need to find successful treatments to improve their quality of life.