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These are the most frequently asked questions on multiple sclerosis.
Question: What is multiple sclerosis?
Answer: Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a disease in which the nerves of the central nervous system (CNS) – which includes the brain, optic nerve and spinal cord – progressively degenerate. Each nerve fibre in the body is surrounded and insulated by a protective layer of myelin, along which nerve signals travel between the brain and the rest of the body. In MS, inflammation causes the myelin to disappear or scar, leading to slower electrical impulses and damage to the nerve cells. The name "multiple sclerosis" means "many scars". As more nerve cells are affected, the sufferer experiences more interference with functions that are controlled by the nervous system, such as movement, feeling and co-ordination.
Question: What causes multiple sclerosis?
Answer: The cause of MS remains unknown. The latest suspicion is that a foreign body or agent such as a virus could cause the immune system to alter into perceiving myelin as an intruder and cause the immune system to attack it. This is why MS is classified as an autoimmune disorder.
Question: How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?
Answer: Doctors usually diagnose MS through a process of elimination of others diseases. This can take months to years. Tools that doctors can use in helping with diagnosis are neurological exams, MRI scans and spinal taps.
Question: What are the most common first symptoms of MS?
Answer: Visual disturbances, limb weakness, muscle spasms, numbness, speech impediments, tremors, dizziness and memory problems are among the more common early symptoms of MS, as is depression, impaired judgment and difficulty with concentration.
Question: How is MS treated?
Answer: Beta-interferon injections are the most widely used of drug therapies for MS. They have been proven to bring the attack rate down by a third and also prevent the formation of silent lesions. Steroids such as prednisone are sometimes prescribed to speed up the recovery from attacks, especially when the attacks are severe and can cause physical disability and pain. Where attacks lead to other symptoms, such as muscle spasms or fatigue, medicines specifically for those symptoms are prescribed.
Question: What is the prognosis for people with MS?
Answer: Because of the variance of symptoms between sufferers, it is difficult to predict how the disease may or may not develop over time. MS does not affect the life span of sufferers.