Multiple Sclerosis: Definition, Causes, Types and Symptoms

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an immune-mediated disease that targets a patient’s central nervous system. This disease can vary in severity and type. In total, there are four different types of MS. Anyone at any age can develop the disease; however elderly people do have a slightly higher risk for developing this disorder. This article will cover the causes, types and symptoms of MS so that you can be prepared if you or your loved one is diagnosed with this disease.

Definition and Causes of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is defined as an immune-mediated disease that specifically targets a patient’s central nervous system, including their brain, optic nerves and their spinal cord. It is considered an immune-mediated disease rather than an autoimmune disease because the exact cell type that is being attacked has yet to be isolated by medical researchers. Thus, the disease is considered to be mediated profusely by a patient’s immune system and does mimic an autoimmune disease, however it cannot be classified as an autoimmune disease since the point of attack is unknown. A patient’s central nervous system is key to their mobility and their thought processes. For this reason, as the disease progresses, patients often become disabled and lose their ability to function normally. In the central nervous system, there are millions of nerve fibers that all communicate with each other in order to process thoughts, gross motor skills and fine motor skills. These nerve fibers are insulated by myelin. The myelin is a fatty substance that allows for quick communication between fibers and protects the nerve fibers. MS specifically targets the myelin cells that surround the nerve fibers. As the myelin is degraded, it tries to regenerate, and scar tissue will form in the degraded areas. This scar tissue will cause lesions to form that can affect the nerve fiber. When nerve fibers are damaged communication between the damaged and undamaged nerve fibers will be halted and will cause a variety of symptoms in patients.

Medical researchers have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of multiple sclerosis. However, they do believe that it is caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Researchers do know that all MS patients do not share one common gene. This means, that there is not one gene that will cause someone to have MS, and therefore it cannot directly be inherited. However, researchers have found evidence to suggest that people can have a genetic predisposition to the disease. These patients posses gene families that can code for immunological factors that could trigger an MS response. However, these genes must be turned on in patients. To turn them on, many researchers have suggested that environmental factors play a role. Current research has shown that people who have lower levels of Vitamin D in their cells may be at risk for developing MS. This was found because MS is less likely to occur in people who live closer to the equator where the sun is constantly shining. Smoking has also shown to be a possible environmental factor of MS.

Multiple Sclerosis - Demylination

Types of Multiple Sclerosis

There are four main types of multiple sclerosis. Each type varies in severity, and will affect patients uniquely. The four types include: Relapsing-remitting MS, Primary-progressive MS, Secondary-progressive MS, and Progressive-relapsing MS.

Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) is the most common type of MS. Patients with this type have MS attacks or flare-ups followed by periods of remission. During their flare-ups, their symptoms could worsen significantly and they could lose many of their normal functions. Then, once they return to a state of remission, they may experience little to no symptoms. During their periods of remission, they have no progression of their disease.

Primary-progressive MS (PPMS) is defined as a progressive type of MS in which patients will continue to have progressive symptoms from the very beginning of their disease. Patients with this type of MS will not experience episodes of remission, and instead will see a constant progressive of their symptoms and a constant loss of function. Their progression can be very quick or it can be very slow.

Secondary-progressive MS (SPMS) follows the same relapse and remission course that relapsing-remitting MS does. However, this type progresses far faster than RRMS. Patients will have flare-ups that will cause a significant progression of their disease then they will have periods of remission in which their disease can progress a lot slower.

Progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS) is the least common type of MS. It is characterized by a constant progressive of symptoms over time. However, this type of MS will also have periods of time in which the progression of symptoms is greatly exacerbated. These quick progressions are known as flare-ups. Patients may or may not recover their neurological functions after their flare-ups, and once their flare-up has cleared, they will still continue to have progressive symptoms.

Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Since multiple sclerosis targets the central nervous system, its primary symptoms affect a patient’s functions. Essentially any functions of daily life can be affected. The most common symptoms of MS include visual disturbance, fatigue, and difficulty with moving. Symptoms can vary in severity from patient to patient and may be very slight at first. Symptoms can also disappear and then reappear months later. If you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms, then it is best to talk with a doctor.

Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease that can cause devastating disabilities. Anyone can receive a diagnosis of MS including the elderly. If you believe that you or one of your elderly relatives may be suffering from MS, then talk with a doctor. It is vital to their health that they will be diagnosed early and get the proper treatment as soon as possible. Many patients with MS will show improvement with treatment and their disease progression will be slowed so that they can continue to live their life to the fullest.  For more information about the MS, look for our second blog post on the disease.