Multiple sclerosis is a chronic nervous system disease. It results when the immune system mistakenly attacks the nerves as if they were a chemical or bacterial invader. The attack is focused on myelin, a fatty material which wraps around nerve fibers to protect them. Once the myelin is destroyed, the nerve underneath becomes damaged. Scar tissue forms, which affects the nerves' ability to send signals, causing a wide variety of nervous system problems.
Symptoms vary in multiple sclerosis, although all involve the nervous system. Most patients have musculoskeletal symptoms like trouble walking or problems with motor control, muscle weakness or spasms, and numbness and tingling. Fatigue, pain, and depression can result, and patients may have problems with mental focus or concentration. Other symptoms include blurred or double vision, sexual problems, and trouble with bladder or bowel control. Symptoms usually begin between the age of 20 and 40, and patients may have periods of remission when there are no symptoms.
Scientists don't know what causes multiple sclerosis. There may be a genetic link, as the presence of certain genes seems to increase risk. Smoking may also raise the risk. Viral infections may trigger the original symptoms and are known to cause relapses, but the connection remains unclear. Vitamin D may have something to do with multiple sclerosis, as some research indicates that higher levels of vitamin D and sunlight exposure may protect susceptible people from the disease.
Multiple sclerosis can't be cured, so treatment is focused on symptom management and supportive care. Medications may slow the progression of multiple sclerosis, help prevent nerve damage, or deal with the effects of nerve damage. Steroid medications can make MS attacks less severe or shorter, and other medications can help with symptoms like muscle spasms. Physical therapy can strengthen muscles and help manage fatigue and pain. Patients may also need to make lifestyle changes to manage stress and improve their emotional health.
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