It is a misunderstanding to think that MS is a muscle disease. MS may cause paralysis of muscles, but it is a disorder of the central nervous system. The name Multiple Sclerosis refers to the brain: Multiple means multiple and Sclerosis means hardening. In the white matter of the brain there are several (hence the term ‘multiple’) sclerotic fires. Sclerotic fires consist of scar tissue, due to the systemic breakdown of the protective casing of the nervous system.
When do you have MS?
MS is a disorder of the central nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. Axons are follicles of nerve cells. MS occurs when the protected insulation layer that encapsulates the axons in the brain and spinal cord becomes damaged or degraded. This casing, known as ‘myeline’, acts as insulation material. It causes the nerve stimuli, the groceries to and from the different body parts, to be forwarded continuously.
When the myelin is affected or broken, the nerves are no longer (well) isolated. Short-circuiting may occur before the nerve stimulants reach their destination. This degeneration process is called demyelination. Tissues in the area become inflamed. In severe demyelination, scar tissue (known as plaques) is formed along the damaged parts of the axons.
Plaque, number and size of plaques determine the type, severity and duration of symptoms. Without good insulation and protection through the myelin there will be short circuiting of the electrical impulses from the brain along the nerve. Axons and nerve cells (neurons) can be damaged. Information to the different body parts is therefore delayed, unclear or even not at all. Research has shown that in MS patients not only myelin is damaged but also the nerves themselves are affected.
The part of the central nervous system affected by demyelination determines which symptom occurs. The symptoms of MS are caused by interruption of communication between the brain and the other parts of the body. Although a patient may be in excellent physical condition, the ability to function is lost because the signals from the brain do not reach their target organ.
Is there anything to predict?
The loss of myelin can thus cause messaging of messages. That does not mean predicting what symptoms someone gets with MS. One of the things that make life with MS uncertain is the fact that the course of the disease is hardly predictable. Symptoms differ per individual. They may be temporary in nature and occur only during an exacerbation while others experience the same symptoms for a long time. (An exacerbation is an MS attack that worsens the symptoms, which is also called a flare, scub or relapse.)
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