Mon, Feb. 25, 2002
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, chronic disease of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). The protective insulation surrounding the nerve fibers of the central nervous system become inflamed and break down.
Symptoms -- including blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, paralysis and blindness -- vary in severity and duration.
It is not fatal. The projected life span for most people with MS is 93 percent of the non-MS population. People who have the disease have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.
The majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled. Two-thirds remain able to walk, though many will need an aid, such as a cane or crutches.
It isn't contagious or directly inherited, although studies indicate that genetic factors may make certain people more susceptible to the disease.
About 330,000 Americans have the disease.
There is no cure.
There are four main types:
1. Relapsing-Remitting. People with this type of the disease experience clearly defined flare-ups (relapses) or episodes of acute worsening of neurologic function. These are followed by partial or complete recovery periods (remissions) between attacks that are free of disease progression. About 70 percent of those diagnosed with MS are initially diagnosed with this form.
2. Primary-Progressive. People with this type of MS experience a nearly continuous worsening of their disease from the onset, with no distinct relapses or remissions. However, there are variations in the rate of progression over time, occasional plateaus and temporary minor improvements. About 15 percent of MS patients are diagnosed with this type.
3. Secondary-Progressive. People with this type of MS experience an initial period of relapsing-remitting disease, followed by a steady worsening disease course with or without occasional flare-ups, minor remissions or plateaus. About 50 percent of people with relapsing-remitting MS develop this form of the disease within 10 years of initial diagnosis.
4. Progressive-Relapsing. People with this type of MS experience a steady worsening disease from the onset but also have clear acute flare-ups, with or without recovery. In contrast to relapsing-remitting MS, the periods between relapses are characterized by continuing disease progression. About 15 percent of MS patients are diagnosed with this type.
Source: National Multiple Sclerosis
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