CLINICAL TIPS: MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
Louis Roller takes a look at multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a demyelinating disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged.
The cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown. It’s considered an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues.
In the case of MS, this immune system malfunction destroys myelin (the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord).This damage disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a range of signs and symptoms, including physical, mental, and sometimes psychiatric problems.
Approximately 23,000 Australians have MS, and it is estimated that every year the number of people diagnosed increases by 4%. Worldwide, MS affects about 2.5 million people.
The ratio of women with MS to men with the disease is two to one.
Because of the difficulty in diagnosing the disease, and because symptoms can be completely invisible, these numbers can only be an estimation.
The cause of the disease is not known, but theories include that it is an autoimmune disease, it is caused by genetic or environmental factors, or that it is caused by a virus.
There is currently no known cure for MS. It is an unpredictable disease that affects different people in different ways.
MS is diagnosed by a range of tests including MRI to detect lesions in the central nervous system, a physical examination to check reflexes and responses, blood tests, lumbar punctures and a range of other tests to measure nerve activity.
Sometimes it can take years to reach a diagnosis because there is no one test for MS. A diagnosis of MS will be made if there is evidence of lesions in different parts of the central nervous system, at different times, with no alternative explanation other than MS.