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Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

A disorder of the central nervous system marked by weakness, numbness, a loss of muscle coordination, and problems with vision, speech, and bladder control. Multiple sclerosis is thought to be an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system destroys myelin.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Multiple Sclerosis

An unpredictable disease of the central nervous system, multiple sclerosis (MS) can range from relatively benign to somewhat disabling to devastating, as communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted. Many investigators believe MS to be an autoimmune disease - one in which the body, through its immune system, launches a defensive attack against its own tissues.

In the case of MS, it is the nerve-insulating myelin that comes under assault. Such assaults may be linked to an unknown environmental trigger, perhaps a virus.

Most people experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 40; the initial symptom of MS is often blurred or double vision, red-green color distortion, or even blindness in one eye.

Most MS patients experience muscle weakness in their extremities and difficulty with coordination and balance. These symptoms may be severe enough to impair walking or even standing. NIH - National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Treatment of seizures for patients with multiple sclerosis

Epileptic seizures occur in a relatively small number of patients with multiple sclerosis, but can have serious consequences. Because the cause of epileptic seizures in patients in MS may be different from that in other forms of epilepsy, it is uncertain whether patients with MS should be treated differently. We searched for studies on the treatment of epileptic seizures in patients with MS, but found none. Well designed studies that address this issue are needed.

The use of methotrexate, an immunomodulator drug, for treating people with multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an immune disease of the nervous system. Drugs that interfere with the immune system, such as methotrexate could benefit people with the disease. To date research suggest that there may be small improvements from treatment with methotrexate. However, until these improvements need to be balanced against methotrexate's potentially serious side‐effects. Until larger research studies are performed, it will be too early to say whether the benefits of this drug outweigh its side‐effects.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which involves people breathing pure oxygen in a specially designed chamber, for the treatment of multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the nervous system which affects young and middle‐aged adults. Repeated damage to parts of the nerves leads to progressive weakness and disability. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves people breathing pure oxygen in a specially designed chamber (such as used for deep sea divers suffering pressure problems after resurfacing). HBOT is sometimes used for MS in case a lack of oxygen to the affected nerves may be making MS worse, but this theory is unproven. The review of nine trials found no consistent evidence that HOBT can improve disability or modify the progression of MS. There is little need for further research.

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Summaries for consumers

Fingolimod (Gilenya) for multiple sclerosis: Fingolimod (Gilenya) for rapidly evolving relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis

In 2015, the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany) looked into the advantages and disadvantages of fingolimod compared with the standard therapies for people with rapidly evolving severe RRMS. For these people, fingolimod is an alternative to standard therapies that use interferon beta or glatiramer acetate.IQWiG assessed the data from a study involving a total of 121 patients. Half of the participants were treated with fingolimod, while the rest used interferon beta.

Fingolimod (Gilenya) for multiple sclerosis: Fingolimod (Gilenya) after glatiramer acetate therapy

In 2016, the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany) looked into the advantages and disadvantages of fingolimod compared with the standard therapies for people with highly active relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).The following results apply to patients who still had active multiple sclerosis despite using glatiramer acetate therapy at a sufficient.For this group of patients, data from one study was available: 17 of the participants took fingolimod and 25 had the standard therapy with interferon beta as follow-up treatment.

Comparing Drugs for Multiple Sclerosis

How do disease-modifying drugs compare in multiple sclerosis?

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Terms to know

Autoimmune Disease
Disease that results when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. Examples include multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Axons
Nerve fibers that are capable of rapidly conducting impulses away from the neuron cell body.
Demyelination
Damage caused to myelin by recurrent attacks of inflammation. Demyelination ultimately results in nervous system scars, called plaques, which interrupt communications between the nerves and the rest of the body.
Exacerbation
A period of heightened disease activity.
Immune System
The body's system for protecting itself from viruses and bacteria or any foreign substances.
Lesion
A lesion is any abnormality in the tissue of an organism ("damage"), usually caused by disease or trauma.
Myelin Sheath
A fatty covering that forms a protective sheath around nerve fibers and dramatically speeds the transmission of nerve signals.
Neurologist
A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the nervous system.
Neurons (Nerve Cells)
A type of cell that receives and sends messages from the body to the brain and back to the body. The messages are sent by a weak electrical current. Also called nerve cell.
Plaque
In medicine, a small, abnormal patch of tissue on a body part or an organ. Plaques may also be a build-up of substances from a fluid, such as cholesterol in the blood vessels.

More about Multiple Sclerosis

Photo of an adult woman

See Also: Primary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis, Secondary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis

Other terms to know: See all 10
Autoimmune Disease, Axons, Demyelination

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