Many people have heard the name “multiple sclerosis” but often don’t know much about it.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the brain, spinal cord, and nerve to the eye (together, these parts of the body are called the central nervous system.). The term “multiple” refers to the fact that symptoms occur over multiple different times as well areas of injury or scars (sclerosis indicates scarring) are in multiple places within the central nervous system. Multiple sclerosis is relatively uncommon and although estimates vary, it’s believed that there are somewhere around 500,000 people in the United States and more than 2 million people in the world have multiple sclerosis.
The diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is made through a combination of patient history, physical examination, MRI scan testing of the brain and spinal cord, and sometimes blood and spinal fluid testing.
The cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown. The disease has both an inflammatory and immune component to it. Sometimes symptoms come and go, this is referred to as a “relapsing” from of MS. And sometimes, signs and symptoms in multiple sclerosis worsen from what’s believed to be a degenerative and not inflammatory or immune problem. This is often categorized as a “progressive” form of MS.
Symptoms of MS are highly varied and no two people with the disease experience it exactly the same.
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis. The first medicine used to reduce the severity of MS was made available in the United States in the early 1990. Today, there are many medications available to treat MS; as of this writing there are 16 with two more coming available soon in the United States. Many of the newer medications have been shown in clinical studies to be of higher effectiveness as compared to the older ones. Medication can be given as injection into the skin, oral tablets or capsules, or as intravenous infusions.
As no two people with MS are the same and no one MS medicine is right for everyone. Further, a medicine that once worked may not always work for a patient.
In addition to medication, changes in diet, exercise, smoking cessation and physical therapy are also part of the treatment of MS.
It’s best to look at the whole person when it comes to multiple sclerosis and devise a treatment plan that is right for the individual at that time. There isn’t always a “right answer” when it comes to treating MS, but often a patient can find the “best answer” that fits their needs and lifestyle.
By: Dr. Barry Jay Riskin