Also known as disseminated sclerosis, Multiple Sclerosis is a demyelinating neurodegenerative disease that causes lesions to the central nervous system, i.e. the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
Myelin is the insulating cover that protects axons and allows a rapid and efficient propagation of the signal of the neurons: demyelination is the main cause of the symptoms as it causes an irreversible interruption in the transmission of the signal between nerve cells.
Myelin loss is due to an autoimmune mechanism: the immune system attacks parts of the central nervous system mistaking them for extraneous agents, damaging the myelin cover and triggering an inflammatory mechanism that leads to the formation scars, better known as plaques or lesions.
Multiple sclerosis is a multifactorial disease that is caused by the sum of several factors:
- Environment and ethnicity: climate, latitude, Caucasian origin, toxic agents, low levels of vitamin D
- Exposure to infectious agents
- Genetic predisposition
- Sex and age: women are affected more than men, and the disease is more frequent within the 20 to 50 age group.
There is not a universal symptomatology of multiple sclerosis because the symptoms vary from one patient to another and during the course of the disease.
The most common symptoms are:
- Perception disorders: significant and persistent tingling, limb numbness or loss of sensation, impaired temperature sensitivity;
- Fatigue and weakness: difficulty in performing daily activities, loss of muscle strength.
- Walking difficulties
- Chronic Pain
- Cognitive disorders (problems with memory and concentration)
In rare and severe cases there can also be:
- Dysphagia: swallowing difficulty
- Impaired breathing: frequent pneumonia and respiratory failure, especially when respiratory muscle weakness is combined with bed confinement.
Cures and Therapy
Cures for multiple sclerosis are yet to be found, but the available therapies can reduce the number of relapses and slow the disease progression:
- Pharmacotherapy: corticosteroids help shorten relapses and reduce their severity, while immunosuppressive drugs prevent relapses and slow the progression of the disease.
- Complementary Therapies
- Targeted rehabilitation to maximize the patient’s independence
- Use of a cough assistant to remove secretions in severe cases