Multiple sclerosis (MS for short) is a chronic illness that affects the central nervous system of a sufferer. In those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, their immune system becomes confused and attacks myelin, the very important protective layer around nerve fibres. As a result of the inflammation and lesions that are inflicted by the rogue immune system, the brain in a person with MS has much more difficulty sending signals around the body, which results in the symptoms that are common with those diagnosed with MS. Despite the same basic state occurring in the brains of sufferers of multiple sclerosis, it’s important to know that every person who lives with the illness should expect a different situation to that of other sufferers.
The beginnings of multiple sclerosis
Depending on the different actions at the brain sites, people with MS can receive four different MS-related diagnoses. This is also why symptoms – as well as the fluctuating severity – can vary so widely depending on the person suffering from multiple sclerosis. The four different types of multiple sclerosis that have thus been identified are Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS), Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) and Primary progressive MS (PPMS). Clinically Isolated Syndrome involves the first episode of MS-related neurological conditions that must last for at least 24 hours to be classified as CIS. Sufferers of CIS demonstrate characteristics of MS, but unlike other symptoms, people who experience a CIS are not guaranteed to go on to develop MS. Relapsing-remitting MS is the most common disease course related to MS (constituting 85% of all sufferers) and involves repeat examples of detrimental neurological conditions referred to as relapses or exacerbations. After such an attack, people with RRMS will often experience undeterminable periods of partial or complete recovery called remissions where some or all symptoms will disappear depending on the patient.
The more severe examples of MS
Secondary progressive MS (SPMS) can directly follow a patient’s initial relapsing-remitting course related to RRMS. The transition to this secondary progressive course involves a worsening of neurologic function that becomes progressively worse over time. Despite this worsening of symptoms, patients can still experience relapses and evidence of new MRI activity with SPMS, but even with these, it is still possible for the disease worsening over the long-term. Primary progressive MS (PPMS) involves a patient experiencing the worsening of neurologic function over time from the onset of symptoms, but without early relapses or remissions that are related to other forms of MS. Roughly 15 per cent of people with MS are diagnosed with PPMS, with potential classifications being active (involving an occasional relapse and the potential for new MRI activity) or inactive. As with SPMS, there is also the potential for worsening of symptoms or no progression related to these symptoms.
Take precautions when possible
Multiple sclerosis is a complex illness that affects millions of people around the world. The different forms of MS that exist paint a picture of a highly complex and unpredictable disease, and it is likely for this reason that a cure is yet to be found. If you or any loved ones have multiple sclerosis, it’s never a bad idea to consult your GP and keep in mind the different MS diagnoses that are possible, as being aware of certain symptoms related to each form will help you manage the disease in a more streamlined way.