What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) occurs unexpectedly, usually when people are just embarking on their adult lives. MS is believed to be an autoimmune disease. Normally, the immune system recognizes the body as “Self’ and protects it from outside entities, such as germs. The central nervous system or CNS (brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord) usually does not allow most immune cells to enter. However, in MS, the immune system no longer recognizes parts of the CNS as “Self” and gains the ability to get into the CNS and to attack the nerves.

Nerves are very similar to electrical cables and communicate by sending electrical and chemical signals. Many of them are coated with an insulating material, myelin, which helps the electrical signal be conducted in an efficient manner. In MS, the myelin insulation s damaged or destroyed, and scar tissue or “sclerosis” occurs, leading to slowed or blocked transmission of electrical information. In addition to myelin damage, the nerve wire or “Axon” can be damaged, as well.

Common symptoms of MS include fatigue, numbness or tingling, weakness, poor coordination, visual disturbances, muscle spasms, change in bladder, bowel or sexual dysfunction, and problems with mood, memory, and thinking.

There are two categories of treatment for people with MS. Disease Modifying Therapies (DMT) and Symptoms Management. DMTs are medications that interfere with the immune system’s ability to attack the nerves. We now have 20 FDA- approved DMTs that we can use to treat patients. Most symptoms of MS can be greatly relieved using symptoms management which usually involves a combination of appropriate medications and other treatments such as rehabilitative therapies, equipment, lifestyle practices and alternative and

complementary therapies.

Living with multiple sclerosis requires patience and diligence, but the good news is that the prognosis for leading a full life is better than ever.

By Dr. Barbara Giesser

Dr. Barbara Giesser, FAAN, FANA, is an internationally recognized clinician and award-winning educator who has specialized in the care of people with Multiple Sclerosis since 1982. Her approach to diagnosis and management of MS combines advanced diagnostics and a personalized medication approach with an emphasis on integrating lifestyle and wellness into the neurologic treatment plan. For more information call 310-582-7613. Pacificneuro.org

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