Multiple sclerosis (MS) is also known as the "disease of a thousand faces", because the symptoms and the course of the disease vary from person to person – and so do the challenges in everyday life.
In multiple sclerosis, the nerve sheaths are damaged. As a result, nerve fibers are partially exposed, leading to impaired transmission of electrical signals.
MS – what is it?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the so-called autoimmune diseases, in which the immune system turns against its own body due to a disorder and not only against "enemies" such as pathogens or cancer cells. In multiple sclerosis, the outer layers of nerve fibers in the central nervous system (CNS) are attacked, called the myelin sheaths. Their gradual destruction leads to slowed nerve conduction. As a result, the body functions controlled by these nerve cells are impaired. The disease gets its name from the fact that multiple scarring is often found in the CNS of those affected after some time, which is referred to in technical language as "multiple sclerosis.
Where MS comes from?
The causes of MS are not yet understood. A mixture of heredity (more than 200 genes(1) make a person susceptible to MS) and environmental factors (e.g., the presence of a disease in a person's body) is suspected. B. viral infections such as measles, herpes or Pfeiffer's glandular fever, smoking). According to recent studies from Denmark and Finland(2), there is an association between low vitamin D levels in infants and increased susceptibility to disease later in life. Presumably, individual predispositions and various external factors interact to lead to the onset of the disease.
What are the symptoms?
Because the foci of inflammation can spread throughout the CNS, the symptoms are quite variable. Typically, the onset of the disease is rapid (within a few hours to days).
The main symptoms are
– Sensory disturbances in the arms and legs, associated with unsteadiness when walking and standing – Lack of strength and considerable fatigue – Disturbances in emptying the bowels and bladder – Visual and speech disturbances – Pain, insensitivity (tingling) and paralysis in various parts of the body.
A distinction is made between two forms of progression: One is relapsing-remitting MS, in which acute phases with severe symptoms alternate with periods in which patients feel better again. The other is progressive (advancing) MS, in which symptoms increase inexorably: This may be noticeable from the onset of the disease or may develop after an initial relapsing course.
How common is the disease?
In Germany, about a quarter of a million people have MS.(3) MS is one of the most common neurological diseases in young adults. About one-third of people with MS develop the disease between the ages of 25 and 35, but it can also occur in adolescence.(4) Women are affected twice as often as men. A study from Canada shows that MS patients have an average life expectancy of about four years less than healthy people.(5)
How to treat MS?
The disease is not curable at present. However, many relapses can be prevented today with so-called basic therapeutics. Slowing the progression of the disease. Medications are available to weaken the immune system's attacks on nerve cells in relapsing-remitting MS. Today, the disease does not necessarily lead to severe disability or inability to work. However, research is currently looking not only at drugs that slow the progression of the disease, but also at how to repair damage that the disease has already caused.