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WHAT IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS?




Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong, potentially debilitating disease that affects your brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).  The illness is an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system responds as if part of your body is a foreign substance.  Your body directs antibodies and white blood cells against itself, causing inflammation and injury to tissues and organs.

Doctors believe that MS occurs due to an inflammation of part of your nervous system.  The inflammation may result in destruction of the insulating sheath (myelin) that covers your nerve fibers, leaving multiple areas of scarring (sclerosis).  This damage slows or blocks muscle coordination, visual sensation and other nerve signals.
MS generally first occurs in people between the ages of 20 and 40.  An estimated 400,000 Americans have MS.  The disease is twice as common in women as in men.


MS OCCURS IN FIVE MAIN TYPES:

BENIGN.  In 10 percent to 15 percent of people with MS, symptoms are mild to moderate, don't worsen and don't lead to permanent disability.


RELAPSING-REMITTING.  In this type, one or two flare-ups occur every 1 to 3 years, followed by periods of remission.  The flare-ups typically appear suddenly, last a few weeks or months, and then gradually disappear.  Symptoms may worsen with each recurrence.  About 85 percent of people with MS begin with this form, and more than half have this form of the disease at any one time.


PRIMARY PROGRESSIVE.  After symptoms first appear, deterioration occurs without periods of remission.  A small percentage of people with MS begin with this pattern of the disease.


SECONDARY PROGRESSIVE.  Usually after years of relapsing-remitting MS, at least half of those people enter a stage of continuous deterioration.  Sudden relapses may occur.


PROGRESSIVE RELAPSING.  This is primary progressive MS with the addition of sudden episodes of new symptoms or worsened existing ones.  This form is rare, occurring in less than 5 percent of people with MS.  

Information from the Mayo clinic November 2001





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