Facts about MS
Multiple Sclerosis is a long term disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves.
Surrounding and protecting the nerve fibres of the CNS is a fatty tissue called myelin, which helps nerve fibres conduct electrical impulses around the body. In MS, myelin is lost in multiple areas, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis. These damaged areas are also known as plaques or lesions. Sometimes the nerve fibre itself is damaged or broken.
Myelin not only protects nerve fibres, it also makes their job possible, so when either myelin or the nerve fibre is destroyed or damaged, the ability of the nerves to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain is disrupted, and this produces the various symptoms of MS.
MS can have many different effects on patients and their families. The increasing level of disability and symptoms experienced by many patients can affect working, family and social life.
Types of MS
There are four types of MS, each with its own characteristics, but each as unpredictable as the other. It might not be clear which type of MS you have when you are first diagnosed. However, by noting changes over time, your neurologist should be able to clarify the type you have.
If you have a small number of relapses followed by a complete recovery, you may be described as having benign MS. It is only possible to make a diagnosis of benign MS once you have experienced little or no disability for a period of 10 to 15 years. However, a diagnosis of benign MS does not guarantee that you will be free of problems; a relapse may occasionally occur after many years in which your MS has been inactive.
Relapsing Remitting MS
Most people are diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS. This is when you have relapses (a flare-up of symptoms), followed by remissions (periods of recovery). Relapses are unpredictable. They can last for days, weeks or months and vary from mild to severe. During a relapse you will either experience new symptoms, or a reccurrence or worsening of previous symptoms. During remission, symptoms can disappear completely, though sometimes people make only a partial recovery.
Symptoms might not always be due to a new relapse. For example, exercise or hot weather can sometimes raise body temperature and make symptoms temporarily worse. Any changed or new symptoms must last for at least 24 hours to be described as a relapse.
Primary Progressive MS
With primary progressive MS, symptoms steadily worsen, resulting in a continued progression in disability. You will not have distinct relapses and remissions.
Secondary Progressive MS
Most people who have relapsing remitting MS later develop a form known as secondary progressive MS. This type of MS is identified when your condition becomes steadily worse, and your disability progresses, for a period of six months or more, whether you continue to have relapses or not.