Multiple sclerosis has been trending in today’s world for some time now. It refers to a neurological disorder that primarily affects your central nervous system.
The central nervous system consists of millions of nerve cells which are responsible for sending signals throughout the body. These signals are necessary to control sensation, movement, cognition, memory, and speech.
Every time you blink, take a step or move a limb, it is the central nervous system that is controlling your body.
Nerve cells communicate with the rest of the body by sending off electrical signals. These signals are transmitted with the help of nerve fibers. The nerve fibers are, therefore, very delicate and are covered by a substance known as myelin
Myelin sheath has an important purpose of protecting the nerve fibers. This sheath also makes sure that every nerve cell is working properly and relaying the signals to the designated area.
When a person develops multiple sclerosis, his nerve fibers are damaged. The body’s immune system gets activated on its own and starts targeting the myelin sheath covering the nerve fibers.
When this destruction starts happening on a larger scale, there is a mass disruption in the conduction of nerve signals. Ultimately, functions of the whole body are disturbed.
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis leads to the development of several signs which include:
- Problems in walking
- Weakness of muscles
- Coordination problems
- Vision problems
Multiple sclerosis affects every person in a different manner. The severity and extent of this problem vary from one person to another.
What causes multiple sclerosis?
In reality, the exact cause of this disorder is not known. Scientists do believe that four factors may be responsible for the progression of multiple sclerosis.
Cause 1: The Immune System
Multiple sclerosis has an autoimmune origin. This means that the immune system of a human body starts malfunctioning and attacks its own central nervous system.
Researchers are aware of the fact that this disease has something to do with the destruction of the myelin sheath. However, they are still not aware why the immune system suddenly starts attacking its own nervous system.
Research is still going on to find out the type of cells which are responsible for triggering the attack. Scientists are also trying to discover the exact reason why this attack occurs in the first place.
At the same time, extensive research is in progress to know about different treatment options for multiple sclerosis.
Cause 2: The Genetics
A lot of genes are thought to play a role in the progression of multiple sclerosis. Your chances of acquiring this disease are quite high if any one of your close relatives such as a sibling or a parent is suffering from it.
As per the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, if a parent or a sibling suffers from multiple sclerosis, the chances of acquiring the disease range from 2.5 to 5 percent in the U.S.
On the other hand, the chances of other people to suffer from this disease are 0.1 percent.
Scientists are of the viewpoint that people with multiple sclerosis usually have a genetic susceptibility to respond to certain environmental agents. There is not much known about the nature of these agents.
Upon encountering these agents, the body’s immune system gets triggered leading to destruction.
Cause 3: The Environment
A lot of epidemiologists have observed an increase in the pattern of multiple sclerosis and its cases in the countries which are located at a distance from the equator.
This correlation has caused a lot of people to believe that vitamin D has a role to play in this.
Vitamin D is extremely beneficial for the body’s immune system. People who live close to the equator get more sunlight and as a result, more vitamin D is produced in their body as compared to others.
The longer your skin gets exposed to sunlight, the more vitamin D your body produces. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease and exposure to sunlight and the consequent vitamin D production may be linked to it.
Cause 4: Infections
Researchers are thinking about bacteria and viruses as a possible cause of multiple sclerosis. Viruses often lead to inflammation of the body. These agents can also cause demyelination of the nerves and may cause multiple sclerosis.
A lot of viruses and bacteria are being investigated to check if they play a role in the development and progression of multiple sclerosis.
Some of these agents include:
- Human herpesvirus-6
- Measles virus
- Epstein-Barr virus
Other Risk Factors
In addition to genetics, immune system, infections, and environment, there are several risk factors which may increase the chances of getting multiple sclerosis.
- Age: People between the ages of 20 to 40 are more prone to multiple sclerosis
- Sex: Women are more likely to suffer from multiple sclerosis as compared to men
- Ethnicity: People belonging to northern Europe are more likely to suffer from multiple sclerosis
What Triggers Multiple Sclerosis?
There are different triggers that people suffering from multiple sclerosis must avoid.
Stress can often trigger the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and make it worse. Practices that may help in the reduction of stress are often recommended to the patients for this very reason.
Cigarette smoke tends to progress the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. If you are a smoker, it is useful for you to quit it. It is also important to avoid secondhand smoke.
Heat may not seem like a trigger for some patients with multiple sclerosis. However, it is important to direct hot tubs or direct sun if you think they are worsening the symptoms.
There are a lot of ways in which medicines can worsen the symptoms. If you are taking a lot of drugs and they are interacting poorly, talk to the doctor about these medicines.
Some people stop taking the medicines because they think it has a lot of side effects or believes that they don’t work. However, these medicines are important to avoid relapses and the formation of all new lesions.
Lack of Sleep
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. If you feel like you are not getting sufficient sleep, this may drain more of your energy.
Infections such as a cold, flu, or urinary tract infection can worsen the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. In fact, infections are responsible for one-third of all the flare-ups seen in multiple sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis Treatment
By far, there is no cure multiple sclerosis. However, there are several ways to manage the symptoms.
One of the most common ways of treating multiple sclerosis is by using corticosteroids. These include intravenous methylprednisolone or oral prednisolone.
In case the patient does not respond to corticosteroids, doctors usually recommend plasma exchange. It is a treatment in which the liquid portion of the blood is separated from a test of the blood cells.
This is then mixed with albumin, a type of protein and then injected back into the body.
There are no therapies that claim to slow down the progression of multiple sclerosis. For relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis, disease-modifying therapies are available but all of them have high risks.