MS 101

What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects your central nervous system – the system in your body that controls everything you do, like breathing, moving, thinking, and feeling.

The central nervous system is made up of your brain, your spinal cord, and long, skinny cells called nerves that carry information from one part of your body to another.

Nerve cells are like electrical cords with wires that connect your brain to the rest of your body. But instead of a rubber coating, nerve cells are coated with MYELIN, which protects the nerves and keeps the energy and signals moving in the right direction.

Although the cause of MS isn’t fully understood, it appears that it is an auto-immune disease. That means the body recognizes the cells – in this case the myelin – as a foreign invader and attacks it, the way it would attack a virus.

When you have MS, your body attacks the myelin and nibbles away at it. As little bare patches start to form, the messages sent through the nerve cells might not go through.

For instance, if you tell your foot to kick a ball, your foot might not get the message. Even though your brain and foot are fine, the nerves between them aren’t working right, so your foot doesn’t know to kick the ball.

Sometimes the nerve can heal from damage and communication returns. But in some people, the damage can’t be fully repaired. However, the brain can sometimes find a new route through nearby nerve cells to get the information across. Physical therapy is helps your brain find and use these new routes. Occupational therapy can also help you learn new ways to move and use your body. That’s why physical therapists and occupational therapists are important members of your health care team!

What are the different types of MS?

There are four types of MS. Their names describe how the disease affects your body over time.

Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) is diagnosed when your symptoms come and go. This is the kind of MS that most people have. If you have RRMS, you may feel pretty good during periods of time called ‘remissions’, but then have temporary periods when you experience symptoms and might feel pretty crummy. These are called ‘relapses’, ‘flare-ups’, or ‘exacerbations’.
Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS) has symptoms that steadily worsen over time. Some people will experience periods of relapse and remission while others won’t. Most people who have RRMS eventually develop SPMS.
Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS) is much less common. It affects about 10 percent of people who have MS. It is characterized by symptoms that slowly worsen over time, without the ups and downs of relapses and remissions.
Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS) is a rare form of MS that affects about five percent of people who are diagnosed with the disease. It is characterized by steadily worsening symptoms with periods when acute symptoms appear. This form of MS does not have periods of remissions.

Just as you are unique and different from everyone else, your MS experience will be unique and a little bit different from everyone else.

What is an MS attack or a relapse?

People who have the relapsing-remitting form of MS experience periods, called MS attacks, flare-ups, or relapses, when the disease is active in their bodies. During an attack, the disease causes the body to stripping away bits of the myelin coating somewhere along the central nervous system, leaving the nerve cells exposed. Doctors can ‘see’ what is happening using an MRI machine to take a picture of the inside of your body. These relapses may or may not cause symptoms for the person with MS. During remissions, the disease is not active. During remission, the disease is not nibbling away at the myelin coating, so the nerves remain protected and working as they should.

Will I have MS forever?

So far, scientists and doctors haven’t found a cure for MS, yet, but they’re working hard to understand the disease and find a way to fix it. In the meantime, the medicines you take can help to prevent MS from getting worse and control some of your symptoms. You might also learn exercises or other activities that can help you feel better, too!