WHAT IS MS?
Although most people have heard the term MS, you would be surprised how many people still ask: What is MS? Unless you have a friend, or family member, who has been diagnosed, there is no real reason to meditate on the subject. It is generally acknowledged as a nasty disease. However, few people understand how complex and debilitating it can be to live with. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). These are the nerves that make up the brain and spinal cord. When operating efficiently, the body fights off germs and what it perceives as other foreign materials. Without this mechanism a person would become sick. In a body with autoimmune disease, the nervous system becomes confused into mistaking portions of the person’s own body as foreign matter.
The immune system consequently begins attacking and damaging healthy tissues. In terms MS it attacks the nervous system. The immune system targets Myelin, which is a fatty insulation material that covers the nerve fibers. When this occurs, axons, which are the components of the nerve cells, lose their ability to function efficiently. The axons are what conduct impulses to other cells. Myelin is to nerves what insulation is to electrical wires. As Myelin is damaged, messages are slowed or stop getting through to the brain. Since the messages cannot travel as effectively along the nerves, the entire central nervous system becomes compromised.
THE NERVOUS SYSTEM: THE COMMUNICATION AND CONTROL CENTER OF THE BODY
The nervous system is the control and communication system of the body. The brain, the control branch of the nervous system, sends signals via the nerves. These are the communications lines to the rest of the body. These signals are collated, in order to direct conscious movement. Examples are; talking, walking, retrieving objects and other dextrous tasks. They also include vital life functions such as breathing and pumping your heart. The nervous system also interprets other inputs from the body’s numerous data-gathering organs. These include the nose, eyes, ears and tongue.
Nerve-endings in the skin detect sensations such as touch, heat, pain and cold. Additionally there are sensors within the body that detect balance, position and so on. The nervous system carries all of this data back to the brain to process. MS can affect many of these functions – and each person has their very own version of the disease. No two people with MS are completely alike in terms of symptoms.
SCAR TISSUE OR SCLEROSIS
When the immune system attacks the Myelin around several or many nerve cells, it leaves scar tissue. This is known as sclerosis and gives the disease its name (multiple scars). This scar tissue does not insulate the nerve anything like a healthy intact layer of Myelin would. Therefore the damaged nerve begins to lose signals passed to it, leading to communication breakdowns. The type, duration and severity of the disease depends on the type of MS. It also varies depending on the person. This can make it difficult for a doctor to determine the type of MS and predict its course. Eventually most people encounter problems with mobility. The effects on mobility are calculated using the EDSS scale.
HOW THE NERVOUS SYSTEM DEALS WITH THESE ATTACKS
The nervous system is compromised by having it’s signal paths blocked by scar damage. Signal paths that are affected depend where the areas of damage are located. The nervous system is vast, so completely different areas can be affected in different people. This explains the wide array of symptoms that can be seen in people with MS. Damage to the Myelin of leg muscle nerve cells could cause difficulty controlling the leg. Equally it could result in partial or total paralysis.
If the exacerbation causes damage to the myelin of the optic nerves ( nerves that carry signals from the eyes to the brain), that person could experience blurry or dramatically decreased vision. http://www.msfocus.org/article-details.aspx?articleID=380 Frequently an MS patient experiences remissions. These are periods of decreased or possibly total absence of symptoms which can continue for several months. Interestingly, a year, or a month could pass before another exacerbation occurs. Usually it is completely random. Generally in time the nervous system will experience another attack. Consequently, the original symptoms return or alternatively newer ones are identified. The accumulating damage from this often leaves the the patient a little more disabled after each new attack.
Secondary symptoms follow. These result from the build up of damage caused directly by the disease. Often, when there is permanent damage to the nerves that control a person’s leg, use of that leg can be lost completely. The muscles of the leg then begin to atrophy (waste away) due to lack of use.
ISSUES RESULTING FROM MYELIN DETERIORATION
The subsequent results from Myelin damage, mean that an MS patient can becomes victim to a host of related issues. These can include:
PROBLEMS INVOLVED WITH SENSE AND TOUCH
ISSUES WITH MUSCLE CONTROL
VISION AND HEARING PROBLEMS
BALANCE AND COORDINATION ISSUES
ELIMINATION PROBLEMS – URINATION AND BOWEL ISSUES
BRAIN ISSUES – SPEECH, COGNITIVE AND MEMORY AMONGST OTHERS.
FATIGUE AND DEPRESSION.