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Multiple Sclerosis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on November 24, 2010

Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disorder in which the myelin sheaths surrounding the axons in the brain or spinal cord are assaulted by the body's own immune system (demyelination), disrupting communication between nerve cells in those places and resulting in a broad range of symptoms. It is still unknown as to what is capable of triggering such autoimmune attacks.

The Blood Brain Barrier

The blood-brain barrier constitutes a partially permeable layer of cells lining the capillaries of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) whose function is to hinder foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses, and immune cells in the bloodstream from entering the central nervous system, which only permits the diffusion of oxygen and nutrients carried by the bloodstream. In the case of multiple sclerosis, certain immune cells known as T lymphocytes are able to diffuse into the central nervous system, indicating a defective blood-brain barrier and the opportunity for the T lymphocytes to wreak havoc on the nerve cells by demyelination.

Types of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is classified in four main types:

  1. Relapsing/ Remitting: characterized by relapses (sudden surfacing of symptoms) with periods of remissions following up, during which the afflicted individual recovers either partially or fully. Approximately 85% of patients are diagnosed first with the relapsing/ remitting type.
  2. Secondary Progressive: evolved from relapsing/ remitting multiple sclerosis after a couple of years, noted for its continual exacerbation punctuated by episodes of remission at first, which it gradually escalates without later on.
  3. Primary Progressive: characterized by gradual worsening of symptoms from the start without any episodes of remissions at all. Primary progressive multiple sclerosis is considerably resistant towards treatment intended for multiple sclerosis.
  4. Progressive Relapsing: a rare form of multiple sclerosis defined by a steady rise in disability along with episodes of relapses and remissions.


Causes of Multiple Sclerosis

The main cause of multiple sclerosis had yet to be established. The risk of contracting multiple sclerosis in a person is elevated in the event that a corresponding family member is afflicted by it as well, foreshadowing one of the reasons for the development multiple sclerosis to be possibly hereditary. A sibling, parent or child of the afflicted will contract multiple sclerosis by a three percent chance. In the case of identical twins where one twin develops multiple sclerosis, the chances of the other twin contracting it is approximately thirty percent, whereas for non-identical twins, where one is afflicted by multiple sclerosis, the likelihood of the other developing it is about 4%.

Studies show that those migrating from an area displaying a higher rate of multiple sclerosis to an area where the disease's incidence rate is lower are noted with a decline in risk of contracting multiple sclerosis, as opposed by migration in the opposite direction, where the migrant population is observed to retain the lower risk of the disorder from their place of origin, though chances of younger migrants in developing it are notably elevated to the country's incidence rate of multiple sclerosis here.

It is also observed that multiple sclerosis occurs in 1 out of 2000 people from countries of a temperate climate, contrasted by 1 out of 10, 000 people who had lived their lives in a tropical climate. Multiple sclerosis is claimed to occur almost rarely among those dwelling near the equator, probably due to a high exposure to sunlight, a natural purveyor of vitamin D. It is as yet unknown how vitamin D plays a hand in reducing chances of developing multiple sclerosis.

There is also speculation that a virus may be responsible for multiple sclerosis. Still, its role in triggering the disease till now had yet to be established. One such virus is known as Epstein-Barr, the popular belief concerning it is that approximately 95% of the worldwide population is infected by it at a certain point, and ensuing infection, the virus will dwell in dormancy on the body's B lymphocytes, cells playing major roles in the immune system such as the production of antibodies against antigens. Several studies have also shown that those infected by the Epstein-Barr virus with higher antibody levels are more predisposed to develop multiple sclerosis than those with lower antibody levels, though it did not suffice to justify that the virus is directly associated to the disease, as claimed by a news report on April 15, 2010.

Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

People encumbered by multiple sclerosis will more often than not experience a wide range of symptoms depending on the afflicted areas of the individual's nervous system. Such symptoms include:

  1. Vision problems: eye pain, blurred vision, color blindness, blindness, double vision, jerky eye movements
  2. Motor problems: paralysis, weakness, involuntary muscle contraction
  3. Sensory problems: abnormal sensations, such as partial or total numbness, tingling, facial pain
  4. Coordination problems: loss of coordination, motion sickness, nausea, stuttering
  5. Cognitive problems: anxiety, bipolar syndrome, dementia, depression
  6. Sexual problems: lack of libido, loss of sensation during intercourse, difficulty in maintaining erection, difficulty in attaining orgasms
  7. Miscellaneous: Fatigue, sleeping disorders

Treatment for multiple sclerosis

Till now there is no known cure for multiple sclerosis. As such, multiple sclerosis treatment consisting of the usage of drugs and therapies focuses mainly on managing symptoms displayed by an afflicted individual.

Drugs To Combat Multiple Sclerosis

  1. Corticosteroids - to deal with inflammations on the brain and spinal cord. Corticosteroid is derived from the hormone cortisone, due to the fact that it is capable of suppressing the body's immune system. Corticosteroids involved in treatment for multiple sclerosis include methylprednisolone, prednisone and dexamethasone.
  2. Interferons - Interferon beta-1a and beta-1b are used to reduce the frequency and intensity of multiple sclerosis symptoms. Interferon beta-1a is derived from mammalian cells whereas modified E. coli produces interferon beta-1b.
  3. Glatiramer - Glatiramer is also used to treat symptoms of the disease, and it is speculated that the drug aids in the defense of the myelin sheath around nerve fibers of the afflicted from the immune system's attacks on it.
  4. Mitoxantrone - Mitoxantrone acts as an immunosuppressant, which lowers the activity of the immune system and as a result slows the advancement of multiple sclerosis. It is especially beneficial to those suffering from secondary progressive multiple sclerosis that is relapsing.
  5. Natalizumab - Natalizumab is designed to interfere with the process of drawing specific white blood cells accountable for the damage in multiple sclerosis, from the bloodstream to the central nervous system, the brain and spinal cord.

Multiple Sclerosis Therapy

Physical therapies could be deemed as a form of relief to multiple sclerosis patients as well. Such therapies are unable to cure primary multiple sclerosis symptoms completely; still they are mostly intended as compensation for deprivations courtesy from multiple sclerosis, in contrast to how secondary multiple sclerosis symptoms could be permanently supplanted by such therapies.

Hookworm Treatment

There is also ongoing research concerning the role of hookworms in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, as the infected ones claimed to have experienced suppression on their immune systems.


Studies of late also show that the usage of cannabis extracts, namely delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), in multiple sclerosis therapies indicate a lowered degree of spasticity among patients.


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    • Yvonne Decelis profile image

      Yvonne Decelis 4 years ago from Boston, Massachusetts

      Thank you for this hub (I have MS and am writing a book about having MS and Fibro.)

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 6 years ago

      My Mom has M.S. This is very informative.