Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective covering of nerve fibers (myelin), leading to inflammation and damage. This damage disrupts the normal flow of electrical impulses along the nerves.
The exact cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors. Here are some key factors associated with the development of MS:
1. Immune System Dysfunction: MS is considered an autoimmune disease, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. In MS, the target is primarily the myelin sheath, the protective covering of nerve fibers in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). This immune response leads to inflammation, demyelination (loss of myelin), and damage to nerve fibers.
2. Genetic Factors: There is a genetic component to MS, as the disease appears to have a higher risk among individuals with a family history of MS. Certain genes associated with immune system regulation and response have been linked to an increased susceptibility to MS. However, having a genetic predisposition does not guarantee the development of the disease.
3. Environmental Factors: Various environmental factors are believed to contribute to the risk of developing MS. These factors include:
– Vitamin D: There is evidence suggesting a link between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of MS. Exposure to sunlight is a primary source of vitamin D, and some studies have shown that individuals with lower sun exposure may be at a higher risk.
– Infections: Certain viral infections, such as the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), have been associated with an increased risk of MS. However, having these infections does not necessarily lead to MS, and the relationship is complex.
– Smoking: Cigarette smoking has been identified as a modifiable environmental risk factor for developing MS. Smokers, particularly those with a genetic predisposition, may have an elevated risk.
4. Geographic and Ethnic Variation: MS prevalence varies geographically, with higher rates observed in certain regions, such as northern Europe and North America. There are also differences in MS prevalence among different ethnic groups.
It’s important to note that MS is a complex and heterogeneous disease, and the interplay of these factors is not fully understood. Research is ongoing to further investigate the causes and risk factors associated with multiple sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can manifest in different ways, leading to the classification of various types of the disease. The course of MS varies from person to person, and individuals may experience different stages or transitions between types.
The main types of multiple sclerosis are:
1. Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS):
– This is the most common form of MS, affecting approximately 85% of individuals at the time of diagnosis.
– People with RRMS experience periods of relapses or exacerbations, during which new symptoms appear or existing ones worsen. These relapses are followed by periods of remission, during which the symptoms partially or completely improve.
2. Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS):
– In some individuals with RRMS, the disease may eventually transition to secondary progressive MS.
– In SPMS, there is a gradual worsening of neurological function over time, with or without occasional relapses or periods of stability.
3. Primary Progressive MS (PPMS):
– Approximately 10-15% of individuals with MS have primary progressive MS.
– PPMS is characterized by a gradual and steady progression of symptoms from the onset, without distinct relapses and remissions.
4. Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS):
– This is a less common form of MS, where individuals experience a steady progression of the disease along with occasional relapses.
– Unlike RRMS, there may not be periods of complete remission.
It’s important to note that the lines between these categories can be somewhat blurred, and individuals may experience a combination of features from different types. Additionally, the introduction of disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) has had an impact on the natural course of the disease for some individuals, influencing the frequency and severity of relapses and potentially slowing disease progression.
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary widely and may include:
Fatigue: One of the most common symptoms, often described as an overwhelming sense of tiredness.
Difficulty walking: Problems with coordination and balance, as well as muscle weakness, can make walking challenging.
Numbness or tingling: Sensations of numbness, tingling, or pins and needles may occur, often in the limbs.
Muscle spasms and stiffness: Involuntary muscle contractions and stiffness can be experienced.
Vision problems: Blurred or double vision, as well as pain or loss of vision, may occur.
Cognitive changes: Some individuals may experience difficulties with memory, attention, and problem-solving.
Emotional changes: Mood swings, depression, and anxiety are common in people with MS.
Impaired bowel and bladder function
The course of MS varies from person to person, and symptoms may come and go or progress over time. There are different types of MS, including relapsing-remitting MS, primary progressive MS, secondary progressive MS, and progressive-relapsing MS.
How Can We Help?
Physiotherapy & Exercise Physiology
Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists will look at your functional capacity, strength, cardiovascular fitness and balance. They may also review any pain or fatigue you may be experiencing. They will then discuss goals important to you and assist you to develop a plan to achieve those goals using evidence based treatment strategies.
Your treatment program may contain a range of exercises or strategies to help you to reach your goals. Physiotherapists may also make recommendations regarding mobility equipment and advise you on safe ways to keep moving and prevent falls.
Occupational Therapists will assess how well you are managing day-to-day tasks, such as, eating, dressing, cooking, or bed mobility. This means that their assessments are sometimes completed in the home environment. Occupational Therapists can teach strategies and recommend equipment to make your home safer and more manageable.
Speech therapist will work on improving speech patterns and oral communication. This may be done through increasing the strength and endurance of the muscles within your mouth and throat to help improve your ability to talk and swallow.
Speech therapists are also able to prescribe assistive communication devices to help individuals communication more efficiently.