The Multiple Faces of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) means "many scars" and is so named because the disease process results in lesions or scars, known as "plaques" throughout the brain and spinal cord. MS is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly sees healthy cells as foreign objects it must attack. The result is flare-ups of inflammation, pain and fatigue, and damage to the nervous system making it unable to communicate the necessary information to perform normal body functions, such as walking, speaking, writing, and seeing.
This degenerative disease takes several forms, and mostly attacks young adults. It's classified into four common types, depending on how it strikes, how often it flares up, and how it progresses. Each requires its own specific treatment.
Relapsing/Remitting MS (RRMS)
RRMS is the mildest form of MS, where flare-ups, or "attacks" occur often and may last for days or months, but afterwards, there is complete or near-complete recovery. Incomplete recovery with no progression of disease is still considered to be this form of MS.
Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS)
Relapses and partial recoveries occur with this type of MS, but complete recovery doesn't occur in between flares. Some people with RRMS eventually develop this form of the disease. The disease steadily progresses with each attack.
Primary Progressive MS (PP)
Primary Progressive MS affects about one in ten people with MS. Isolated attacks rarely occur with this form of MS; rather, right from the onset, the disease progresses steadily, with no remission.
Progressive Relapsing MS (PRMS)
Symptoms that progress steadily and attacks that occur while in remission are hallmarks of this rare form of MS.
Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO)
Although MS is more common in caucasians than other races, NMO is more common in non-caucasians. NMO, though rare, is the most severe form of MS and can lead to blindness and lack of mobility within five years of onset.
Early identification and treatment of MS is considered essential to experiencing the best outcome. A variety of medications that suppress an overactive immune system are used to treat MS and several other treatments are currently being studied, including bone marrow and stem cell transplants.
Additionally, other therapies may be prescribed to help patients cope with the fatigue, weakness, pain, muscle stiffness, depression, bowel and bladder dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, and cognitive problems that can surface with this condition.
Mayo Clinic: Multiple Sclerosis: Types Web
Mayo Clinic: Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) Variant of Multiple Sclerosis Web June 2012
Riskind, Peter, MD "Multiple Sclerosis: The Immune System's Terrible Mistake." On the Brain: The Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter. 1996: 5(4) Web June 2012
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