Health is one of the main concerns of people. Due to the prevalent unhealthy lifestyles in the contemporary society, people are looking for ways and means of being healthy like engaging in physical activities and eating healthy food. This is to avoid sickness and disease that may hinder our ability to perform tasks and do our daily activities.
However, though how much we engage ourselves in healthy lifestyle. There are diseases and disorders that are beyond our control and prevention. This includes diseases that are hereditary and are inevitably acquired in the environment. Eating healthy and regular exercise may not be enough in preventing the onset of the disease.
One of these diseases is multiple sclerosis (MS) or also known as disseminated sclerosis or encephalomyelitis disseminate. Multiple sclerosis is a disease in the nervous system that affects the brain and the spinal cord. It causes damage to the myelin sheath which is the surrounding material of the nerve cells and protects it. The disease slows down or hinders the flow of nerve cells messages that is sent between the body and the brain (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2008).
This will eventually lead to the symptoms of the disease which includes disturbances in your vision, trouble with coordination and balance, muscle weakness, trouble with sensations and feelings like numbness and prickling and thinking and memory problems (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2008).
There is no exact known cause of this disorder in the central nervous system but it is believed that it is an autoimmune disease or condition (Compston & Coles, 2002). It is a condition wherein the body attacks itself and may lead to demyelination.
It is believed that the multiple sclerosis affects an estimated 300,000 of the population in the United States alone and more than a million around the world (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2006). The disease affects women greatly than men and start at the age of 20 to 40. Usually, the disease is a mild condition but it may make some people to lose their ability walk, speak and write. There is no exact cure known for multiple sclerosis but medications may slow it down and help control the symptoms of the disease to prevent further progression of the disorder. Physical and occupational therapy may also help in improving the conditions of the disease (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2008).
Signs and Symptoms of MS
A disease is always characterized by the signs and symptoms that occur with the disease. Multiple sclerosis is also accompanied with a wide array of symptoms that distinguished the disease. Neurologists recognize symptoms of the multiple sclerosis that usually come and go, meaning, it may be present for quite some time and it may pass. In order to be considered as a manifestation or an attack of multiple sclerosis, the symptom should be present for at least one day (24 hours). The symptoms may appear singly or in combination with other symptoms (Sheremata, 2006).
What happens to a person with multiple sclerosis is the body mistakenly orders the antibodies and leukocytes to attack against the proteins of the myelin sheath, this is the autoimmunological characteristic of multiple sclerosis. This may result to the inflammation and injury of the myelin sheaths and the nerve cells (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2006).
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease and it varies in severity. For some, it may be a mild illness but it may also lead to permanent disability to others. Various treatments can modify the course of the disease and alleviate the symptoms (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2006).
The signs and symptoms manifested by the disease vary greatly depending on the nerve fibers that are affected by the disease. Symptoms may include numbness and weakness of the limbs or the lower body which occurs one at a time, partial or complete loss of vision and occurs with pain during eye movement. The disease is also characterized of tingling and pain in some parts of the body and electric shocks sensations that occur with certain movement of the head and other parts of the body (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2006).
The common symptoms of multiple sclerosis are “fatigue, weakness, spasticity, balance problems, bladder and bowel problems, numbness, vision loss, tremor and vertigo”. Signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis may be shown persistently or may cease during some time (Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, 2008).
The signs and the symptoms of multiple sclerosis give a clinical picture of the disease that result from the nerve lesions or the focal point of damage of the disease that cause disturbances in the electrical conduction in one or more parts of the nervous system. Thus, the nature and manifestation of the disease is determined by the location of the lesions (Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, 2008).
Causes of MS
At present, there is no known exact cause of multiple sclerosis. Studies on the epidemiology of the disease render probable hints on the possible causes of multiple sclerosis. There are various theories that attempt to explain and combine known data to render the most possible explanations but these theories are like shots in mid-air and do not hit the target directly. Combinations of environmental and genetic factors attempt to explain the occurrence of multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis is not a disease that is hereditary but genetics play a significant role in the vulnerability of a person in acquiring the disease. There is a higher risk in acquiring multiple sclerosis to persons with relatives with the disease, especially in the cases of siblings, parents and children (Compston & Coles, 2002).
Aside from the studies of the families with MS, there are also specific genes that are linked to multiple sclerosis. There is a greater possibility of acquiring multiple sclerosis when there are differences in human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system, which is “a group of genes in chromosome 6 that serves as the major histocompatibility complex in humans.” (“Risk Alleles for Multiple Sclerosis Identified by a Genomewide Study”, 2007).
The genetic causes of multiple sclerosis attempt to explain the geographical and epidemiological variations of the disease. It can greatly explain the occurrence of the disease in families but it cannot explain the other phenomena that may trigger the onset of multiple sclerosis like migrating on an early age and the changes on the risk factors (Ascherio & Munger, 2007).
A viable explanation for this is that the disease is transmitted as some kind of infection that is caused by a microbe rather than a simple pathogen. There are many hypotheses developed, one of which is the hygiene hypothesis that proposes the exposure to several infectious agents early in life as protection against MS. However, MS is an autoimmune reaction of the body triggered in individuals vulnerable of the disease by a number of infectious microorganisms and risk factors generally increase with age (Ascherio & Munger, 2007).
Another proposed hypothesis is the prevalence hypothesis which discuss that the disease is caused by a pathogen in regions where there is high prevalence of multiple sclerosis. However, the hygiene hypothesis received more support and approval than the prevalence hypotheis (Ascherio & Munger, 2007).
Non- Infectious Environmental Risk Factors
It is believed that multiple sclerosis is more prevalent in people living farther from the equator. The decreased in exposure on sunlight is linked to higher risk of MS. The decreased in vitamin D production and intake described the greater risk among those who are less exposed to sunlight (Marrie, 2004).
Stress may also be a factor of multiple sclerosis although there is no sufficient evidence. Parents who lost a child have higher risks in acquiring MS than those who had not. Smoking can also be an independent risk factor in developing multiple sclerosis. Vaccines injected to people, especially during the early years are evaluated and are considered as a cause of MS but may studies show no association of the vaccines and multiple sclerosis.
Overall, multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, which is for unknown reasons, the body’s immune system which includes antibodies and leukocytes start to attack the body tissues, the immune system attacks the body cells that produce myelin. Multiple sclerosis is not transmitted genetically the susceptibility to the autoimmune effects of the disease suggest that it is partly genetic (Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, 2008).
Viral infection is also speculated as one of the probable causes of MS. It is believed that it may have been caused by a persistent transient viral infection in the Central Nervous System (CNS) and other parts of the body.
There is a high incidence of multiple sclerosis that can be found in temperate zones of North America and Europe highly suggesting that some factor may indicate the triggering factor of the environment such as vitamin deficiencies and toxins causing MS to show signs and symptoms of those whose immune system are genetically predisposed to multiple sclerosis.
Ascherio, A. & Munger, K.L. (2007, April). Environmental Risk Factors for Multiple Sclerosis. Part I: The Role of Infection. Annals of Neurology 61: 288-299.
Compston, A. & Coles, A. (2002, August 24). Multiple Sclerosis. The Lancet 359: 1221-1231.
Marrie, R. (2004, November 17). Environmental Risk Factors in Multiple Sclerosis Aetiology. The Lancet 3: 708-718.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2006, December 6). Multiple Sclerosis. MayoClinic.com. Retrieved November 18, 2008 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/DS00188/DSECTION=causes.
Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. (2008). FAQs. Retrieved November 18, 2008 from http://www.msfacts.org/info_faq.php#.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2008, November 13). Multiple Sclerosis. Medline Plus. Retrieved November 18, 2008 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/multiplesclerosis.html.
Risk Alleles for Multiple Sclerosis Identified by a Genomewide Study. (2007, August 30). The New England Journal of Medicine 357: 851-862.
Sheremata, W.A. (2006). 100 Questions & Answers about Multiple Sclerosis. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.