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What is MS Disease?

Updated on May 24, 2017

It seems almost everyone knows someone with Multiple Sclerosis. For some reason this disease affects women twice as often as men. The National MS Society estimates that about 400 000 people in the US and close to 2.1 million people worldwide are living with Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis is abbreviated as MS.

This photo was taken at a performance art in London for an MS Disease Charity
This photo was taken at a performance art in London for an MS Disease Charity | Source

What is MS Disease?

MS disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system. It commonly involves the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. An autoimmune disorder means that the body mistakenly attacks itself destroying normal healthy tissue. In the case of MS, the body attacks nerve cells thereby impairing certain body functions.

Our nervous system is made up of nerve cells known as neurons. These cells are responsible for our thoughts, feelings and senses. They also help us control our body’s motor functions such as walking and talking.

What does a neuron looks like?

The cell body of the neuron called the soma is connected to the terminal of the neuron by a long axon.

A neuron connected to another (postsynaptic cell) at their synaptic terminals.
A neuron connected to another (postsynaptic cell) at their synaptic terminals. | Source

The axons of some neurons can be quite long. Some axons like those that run the length of the spinal column can be several feet long. Myelin sheaths are group of insulating cells that surround the axon. Cells that make up the myelin sheath are called Schwann cells.

How does a neuron perform its function?

The function of a neuron is essentially communication. It transmits nerve impulses across its length. The transmission works efficiently thanks to the outer protective (insulating) layer around the axon called Myelin Sheath. In the most simplistic way, the myelin sheath is similar to the plastic or rubber coating that covers an electrical cord.

A simple example: Your eyes are glued to this web page because they pick up light from your computer screen and send them via neurons to your brain. This information is sent to your brain as nerve impulses. Your brain processes these nerve impulses in order for you to make sense out of what you are looking at.

What Causes MS disease?

It is not completely clear what causes MS. Researchers believe that MS is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Someone who has a biological relative with MS has a significantly higher risk of getting MS than someone who does not have a relative with MS.

Scientists also found out that there has to be an environmental trigger for the disease to occur. A number of triggers have been identified. These include smoking, lack of sunshine, vitamin D deficiency and Epstein-Barr viral (EBV) infection.

Prevalence of MS in the world
Prevalence of MS in the world | Source

Geography also contributes to some extent to the risk of MS. According to scientific data, the frequency of MS increases as one moves away from the equator. This has been associated with the amount of sunshine a geographical region receives. Insufficient sunshine and vitamin D deficiency have been linked to high MS risk.

How does MS disease affect a neuron?

MS gets its name from the build-up of scar tissue known as Sclerosis which occurs in the brain and spinal cord. The scar tissue occurs as a result of damage to the myelin sheath – the protective layer that covers the neuron. MS can also affect the axon. When this occurs, the neuron itself is damaged or broken. Damaged myelin sheath and broken nerve fibers disrupt messages sent to and from the brain.

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What are the symptoms of MS?

MS is a lifelong disease. Its symptoms can change over time and vary from one person to another.

Common early symptoms include muscle weakness, difficulty walking or feeling of heavy feet, tingling or numbness in hands and toes, decreased coordination (visible as clumsy walking) and double vision or blurred vision.

As the disease progresses symptoms may include muscle stiffness, pain and difficulty controlling urination.

There is no cure yet for MS. However, treatments may help treat MS attacks, relief symptoms and reduce disease progression.

What are your thoughts on MS? Tell them in the comments section below.

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    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      What an interesting article on MS. It took me back to my nursing days in Holland. I nursed a lovely young woman who needed to have a neck brace measured for her very advanced MS dis ease. So very sad. When her head fell onto her chest she could not bring it up herself. She was very kind and always had something nice to say to everyone. She was completely dependent on others. She was married and her husband was a real great guy. I'm sure that vitamin D deficiency might be one factor?