Multiple sclerosis (MS) was first described by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in 1868. Yet, after more than 140 years of research into the disease, much remains a mystery. There is no known cause, and as yet, no cure. However, there are treatments that can slow the progress of the disease and manage the symptoms, and new research is expanding our understanding of this unpredictable illness.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system, (CNS) comprised of the brain and spinal cord. In the CNS, nerve fibers or axons are surrounded by a layer of insulation called myelin. Myelin allows nerve signals to travel properly,
In MS, the myelin is destroyed (demyelination) on the brain and spinal cord. The scarring, located at multiple sites in the CNS, disrupts transmission of messages that communicate a desired action from the brain, through the spinal cord, to various parts of the body. The inflammation produced by MS damages the axons themselves and can cause permanent loss of function. In the process, the cells that produce myelin can also be damaged. This limits the ability of the brain to repair damaged myelin.
Who Gets Multiple Sclerosis?
Statistics indicate that there are currently 350,000 to 500,000 people in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with MS. Two hundred people are diagnosed with MS every week and over 2.5 million people are living with the disease worldwide. However, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not require U.S. physicians to report new cases of MS and the symptoms of the disease can go unrecognized for some time, these numbers are only estimates.
MS is more common in women, appears more frequently in Caucasians than in Hispanics or African Americans, and is relatively rare among Asians and certain other ethnic groups. MS is most commonly diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 20 and 50, although it can develop in young children and teens as well as older adults.