In 2000, my mom became one of the 400,000 Americans living with Multiple Sclerosis. Like most of them, she had no idea the early symptoms -- blurred vision, numbness, and loss of balance -- would turn out to be the onset of MS.
MS is neither contagious, nor directly inherited. It is believed to be an autoimmune deficiency. The body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
Myelin, the fatty substance that protects nerve fibers, is destroyed by white blood cells called lymphocytes. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue, from which sclerosis is derived. Damage to nerve fibers impairs sensation, movement, and thought proceses.
The course of MS is hard to predict with the disease usually following one of four patterns:
Relapsing-Remitting – Relapses (flare ups) are followed by remissions in which the disease does not progress. Most people are first diagnosed with this type;
Primary Progressive – Neurological function worsens slowly without the presence of relapses or remissions;
Secondary Progressive – Develops after a relapsing-remitting phase, in which the neurological condition steadily worsens without relapse or remission;
Progressive relapsing – The rarest form. Condition worsens from beginning. No recovery following relapses;
My mother has Secondary Progressive MS. Since her diagnosis, her cognition has clearly suffered as a result of the disease. Though she takes medicine daily, her speech has slowed and she struggles with walking.
But we are hopeful.
Researchers are quickly making strides in the treatment of MS. Very soon, they may be able to stop the progression of the disease in its tracks.