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Your questions about MS answered


Although Multiple Sclerosis is not a new condition it has recently become more understood and easily diagnosable. Auto-immune diseases were not generally part of the mainstream consciousness as recently as twenty years ago and it has only been in recent times that they have gained a degree of prominence. Auto-immune disease is the term used to describe what happens when the body’s immune system starts to attack and try to wipe out various elements of its own body. AIDS is one example when the immune system attacks itself, MS is another as the immune system seeks to destroy the sheath that surrounds the body’s nerves. But what does this mean? Can it be treated? How does it manifest? Here are some answers to some difficult questions.


Is it the same for everyone?

The truth is that there four different types of Multiple Sclerosis each named for the effects that they have on the body. These different types are known as Relapsing-Remitting MS, Secondary-Progressive MS, Primary-Progressive MS and Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS). Of these, the first one is the most common. Because MS tends to come with periods of suffering and periods of remission the various names describe how the symptoms occur. In the former, they return and disappear, while with PRMS the symptoms start, never disappear and keep on getting worse.


Will it kill me?

Typically speaking MS cannot kill a person, but studies do suggest that sufferers have a lower life expectancy than non-sufferers. Typically, by as much as six years. So, while it is not good news being diagnosed with the condition it is not a fatal condition, and while in many ways it can be uncomfortable and awkward you don’t need to start writing a will and moving to the hospice if you have just been diagnosed.


What causes it?

It is not known what causes MS although it has become increasingly clear what can cause flare-ups once the condition has arrived. Stress is a major factor in bringing on flare-ups or ending remissions so sufferers should try as much as possible to avoid highly stressful situations. Sadly, though living with MS can be quite stressful in its own right. But as to what leads to the onset of the condition in the first place – that research is still ongoing.


Who gets MS?

Multiple Sclerosis can happen to anyone. It does tend to affect women more than men (with approximately double the number of women affected than men). It affects Caucasians with Northern European ancestry more than other groups, but there are no groups that are immune or exempt. It also tends to manifest in younger people with most diagnoses being made in people who are between the ages of 20 and 50.


When was it discovered?

Although it has sprung to prominence more recently it was first discovered as long ago as 1868 by Jean-Martin Charcot. He named it after the lesions that appeared on the brain and spinal column which look like scars or sclera. A lot has been learned about MS in the intervening century and a half, but there is still neither a cure nor an understanding of what causes the onset of the disease.