A close-up of multiple sclerosis: The patient’s own leukocytes (white blood cells) destroy myelin, the protective layer that surrounds the nerves. As a result, nerve impulses are no longer transmitted as fast as before, and later on they might not be transmitted at all
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) strips the coating from nerve fibers, attacking the central nervous system, and thus presents itself as a disease with many faces. Young adults are most likely to be affected. Here you can find out how they live with this disease and what help they receive in their daily lives.
With multiple sclerosis (MS), there are no warning signs, no early signals, and no risks that could increase the likelihood of developing this disease. Its genetic causes are unclear, and possible environmental factors are repeatedly investigated and discussed. The one thing that is clear is that as yet there is no cure for this disease. However, its course can be mitigated.
Approximately 2.5 million people worldwide are affected by MS. The further an individual lives from the equator, the greater his or her developing multiple sclerosis. The initial symptoms are generally experienced when the patient is between 20 and 40 years of age. MS very rarely affects children or people older than 60, and is twice as common among women as men.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the nerves — more precisely, of the myelin, the protective covering of the nerves. Multiple sclerosis causes inflammation in these lipid-rich biomembranes. As a result, the nerve signals sent via the affected nerve fibers are disrupted and can no longer be correctly processed in the brain.
The symptoms are extremely varied:
• Initial symptoms are often sensory disturbances in the arms and legs, even though the patient otherwise feels well
• Another equally frequent initial symptom is impaired vision, such as double or blurred vision
• Disturbance of muscular function
• Difficulty in walking, ranging from minor discomfort to stiffness or spasticity
• Early onset of fatigue, both physical and mental
• Loss of bladder control
• Slurred or listless speech
• At later stages, the long-term effects may include sexual dysfunction or loss of bowel control; severely ill patients may experience psychological disorders
In the majority of patients, the initial course of the disease is relapsing-remitting. New symptoms occur over a period of at least 24 hours, in most cases over several days or even weeks. The intervals between the episodes may last for weeks, months or even years. At best, and generally at an early stage of the disease, the symptoms may disappear completely. At later stages, however, residual symptoms remain because scabs form over the inflamed areas in a hardening process called sclerosing.
In addition to the relapsing form of the disease, there is a less frequent form in which it progresses steadily from the start. This type of chronic progression is more common in patients who have been ill for a longer period of time. Nonetheless, nowadays the life expectancy of multiple sclerosis patients is hardly any shorter than normal.
The aim of therapy is to influence the extent and progression of the disease as early and as effectively as possible. The basic therapy therefore aims to minimize the inflammation in the central nervous system, which can be achieved through interferon-beta preparations, for example. These reduce the activation of the immune cells and normalize the patient’s misdirected immune system. Such preparations can reduce the frequency and intensity of MS episodes and slow down the progression of the disease. Because the nervous system may already be damaged by the early stages of MS, systematic early therapy is of paramount importance to the course of the disease.
In addition, cortisone preparations are used to treat symptoms during acute phases of MS. If the desired effect fails to materialize, dialysis may be successful when administered as an acute therapy. In addition to drugs, use of physical therapy, ergotherapy and speech therapy are vital for mitigating the symptoms and increasing the patient’s sense of well-being.
Today, the therapeutic care of MS patients enables them to continue their daily lives and also to work — despite typical symptoms such as severe fatigue. Statistically speaking, in a group of 750 employees, one person will be affected by MS. For the individual with MS, it is vitally important to create awareness of multiple sclerosis among his/her peers. On the annual World MS Day, which is organized by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF), associations, self-help groups and MS organizations around the world therefore direct public attention to this disease. The motto of the upcoming World MS Day on May 25, 2016 is “Independence.” The question to be addressed is: How can people with MS live as free and as self-determined a life as possible — and what does independence mean for each of these individuals?
In M – The Explorer Magazine from Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, people with MS tell how they successfully maintain their independence, which they have defined in very personal terms, and how they manage not to lose heart in spite of their disease. For example, the MS ambassador Yuval T., who climbs the world’s highest mountains and runs marathons.
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