What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that attacks the protective covering of nerves, causing communication issues between the brain and other parts of the body. The cause of MS is unknown, but some factors may raise a person's risk of developing it. For example, if your parent or sibling has MS, or you have another autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes, you may be more predisposed to getting MS than others.

Symptoms of MS vary widely from person to person. Common ones are weakness in the arm or leg, lack of balance, stiff muscles, fatigue, dizziness, partial or total vision loss, slurred speech, and issues with bowel and bladder function. While there is no cure for MS, treatments focus on the following:

  • Reducing attacks, which occur when nerves become inflamed (or swollen), causing new symptoms to arise or existing ones to worsen. Drugs like corticosteroids lessen inflammation and may help prevent attacks or limit their occurrence.
  • Slowing the development of the disease. Immunomodulators are medications that alter the body's immune response. They may minimize nerve damage brought on by MS and thus decrease the rate at which it progresses.
  • Easing symptoms. Physical therapy can help with leg weakness and improve balance. Medicines like muscle relaxants may be prescribed to reduce muscle stiffness.
Living with MS can be a challenge, but due to advancements in medicine over the past few decades, the quality of life of people with MS has increased. Although the average life expectancy of those who have the disease is about five years lower than the rest of the population, this difference seems to be at a gradual but steady decline.

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