What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord. It’s an unpredictable condition that can be relatively benign to disabling. Some people with MS may be mildly affected, while others may lose their ability to write, speak, or walk when communication between the brain and other parts of the body becomes disrupted.
What causes multiple sclerosis?
There are many possible causes of MS, including viruses, autoimmune disorders, environmental factors, and genetic factors. All of the possible causes share the common feature that the body's immune system is prompted to attack its own nervous tissue. In particular, in MS, the immune system commonly attacks the layer of protein called myelin that surrounds the connecting fibers between parts of the central nervous system. This layer of protein normally provides insulation for the electrical signals that the nervous system uses to communicate. When this insulation is destroyed, communication becomes interrupted and ultimately parts of the nervous system are permanently destroyed.
What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?
Common symptoms of MS include difficulties with walking, vision problems, sensation disturbances (“pins and needles” or numbness) and fatigue. Every patient with MS has a different experience and may not have the same symptoms. Symptoms can come and go or get worse over time. When symptoms come and go, these are often called relapses, exacerbations, or flare-ups.
How is multiple sclerosis treated?
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, however there are strategies available to lessen and manage the symptoms, treat flare-ups or relapses, improve your function and safety, and provide much needed emotional support. The goal is to work with each individual patient to determine the best treatment course to help reduce symptoms and attacks and hopefully prevent progression of any disability. Early treatment can provide the best outcomes for children and teens with MS. For more information on treatment of MS, visit Multiple Sclerosis (MS) & Demyelinating Diseases Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital.