Multiple sclerosis is a condition that results when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own nerve cells. Damage to the nerves can slow electrical signals or prevent them from passing from the brain to the other parts of the body. This can cause a variety of neurological symptoms including numbness, difficulty with walking or balance, coordination problems, vision problems, pain, mental and cognitive changes, and depression.
Patients who are diagnosed with MS will have one of four basic types or “courses” of MS symptoms:
This type of MS is characterized by times of obvious flare-ups (relapses) of the disease. During these times, symptoms suddenly become more obvious. Relapses are followed by remissions, which are times when symptoms partially or completely go away. This type of MS is the most common when the disease is first diagnosed. Approximately 85 percent of people with MS have the relapsing-remitting type.
This type of MS is characterized by a slow but steady decline with no significant relapses or remissions. Temporary, minor improvements are sometimes seen, as are rare plateaus where symptoms level off for a short time. The rate of decline varies from person to person. This type of MS is fairly rare and is seen in only about 10 percent of patients.
This type of MS is found in people who start with Relapsing-Remitting MS, then transition to the Progressive type, usually within 10 to 20 years of the time they were first diagnosed. Once they begin the Progressive stage, they experience steadily worsening symptoms with only minor possible plateaus or remissions.
This type of MS is seen in approximately half of people who were not using disease-modifying therapies to treat their MS. It is not known if available therapies have a long-term benefit in preventing the transition to Progressive MS.
This type of MS is characterized by progressive worsening of the disease starting from the time it is diagnosed, with occasional obvious relapses. During relapses, which are also known as attacks or exacerbations, symptoms become suddenly worse. Sometimes symptoms will drop back to the previous level after the attack is over, but the progression of the disease continues to worsen between relapses.
This is different from Relapsing-Remitting in which the disease improves (remits) between relapses. Progressive-Relapsing is the most rare type of MS and is seen in only 5 percent of patients.
Although currently there is no cure for MS, there are treatments available to help modify the course of the disease, manage symptoms, treat flare-ups, and improve overall neurological function. These treatments all have the goal of improving overall quality of life for people with MS.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Diagnosing MS. Web. November 20, 2011.
Multiple Sclerosis: Just the Facts. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Web. November 20, 2011.
Medicine Net. Multiple Sclerosis. Fernando Dangond, MD. Web. November 20, 2011.
PubMed Health. Multiple sclerosis. Web. November 20, 2011.
Reviewed November 23, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith