Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, Nov. 2002, WebMD
Medscape & The Cleveland Clinic
Q: What is multiple sclerosis?
A: MS is an autoimmune disease, whereby the body's own immune system, which normally targets and destroys substances foreign to the body such as bacteria, mistakenly attacks normal tissues. In MS, the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, two components of the central nervous system.
Q: What causes MS?
A: Doctors still don't understand what causes MS, but there are interesting data that suggest that genetics, a person's environment, and possibly even a virus may play a role.
Researchers believe that MS may be inherited (passed on from parents to children). First, second and third degree relatives of people with MS are at increased risk of developing the disease. Siblings of an affected person have a 2%-5% risk of developing MS.
Some scientists theorize that MS develops because a person is born with a genetic predisposition to react to some environmental agent, which, upon exposure, triggers an autoimmune response.
In addition, some studies have suggested that many viruses such as measles, herpes, and the flu viruses may be associated with MS. To date, however, this belief has not been proven.
Q: What are the symptoms of MS?
A: The onset of MS may be dramatic or so mild that a person doesn't even notice any symptoms.
The most common early symptoms of MS include:
Q: Is multiple sclerosis fatal, contagious, or hereditary?
A: MS is not considered a fatal, contagious or directly inherited disease, although there may be a familial predisposition of MS. Prevalence in families of individuals with MS is somewhat higher than in the general population.
Q: Is there a cure for MS?
A: Unfortunately, there is not a cure for multiple sclerosis, but there are many drugs that may slow down the progression of the disease. There are also many treatments available that can help a person with MS manage their symptoms and live a productive and fulfilling life.
Q: Am I going to end up in a wheelchair?
A: Most people with MS usually get around without assistance; however, there may be a time when you will need some type of assistance. Approximately 25% of people with MS will need a wheelchair. There may be a time when you would need to use some type of other walking aide like a cane or walker.
Q: How do I decide which therapy is best for me?
A: Choosing to begin therapy can be a difficult decision to make; learning about your treatment options and discussing them with your doctor is the first step in deciding what treatment to begin. Some other factors to consider are effectiveness, side effects, your current lifestyle, and how the therapy is given.
Q: How do people with MS benefit from deep brain stimulation?
A: The main purpose of deep brain stimulation is to control the
arm tremor. While tremor of the head and body may be helped, the decision
to have surgery should be based on the goal of decreasing arm tremor. In
the case of multiple sclerosis, other problems such as loss of vision,
sensation, or strength are not helped by deep brain stimulation.
Q: What alternative therapies are recommended for MS?
A: Optic neuritis is the inflammation of the optic nerve, the nerve located in the back of the eye that transmits light and visual images to the brain and is responsible for vision. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 55% of people with MS will have an episode of optic neuritis. Frequently, it's the first symptom of the disease. Although having optic neuritis is very suggestive of MS, it does not mean that a person has or will get MS.
The symptoms of optic neuritis are the acute onset of any of the following:
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