Multiple sclerosis

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Updated: 1/14/2003 2:30 pm
The brain and spinal cord are covered by a fatty tissue called myelin (MY-ah-lin). Myelin protects nerve cell fibers, and allows electrical impulses to travel speedily between the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the body. When sections of myelin are destroyed, nerve communication is impaired, resulting in a chronic disease of the nervous system known as multiple sclerosis, (sclah-ROE-sis) or M-S. Doctors aren't sure what causes the myelin damage that leads to M-S, though many believe a virus or a malfunctioning immune system response is involved. M-S usually strikes between age 20 and 40, and occurs more in women than in men. Symptoms may range from numbness or weakness in the limbs, to severe problems like paralysis or blindness. Other signs include loss of coordination, blurry or double vision, difficulty walking, and slurred speech. The course of the disease varies. Some people experience repeated attacks, while others may be in remission for years between episodes. About 20 percent of patients have a mild form of the disorder, which may cause few or no major complications. To relieve symptoms, muscle relaxants and steroids are sometimes prescribed. Regular exercise and a healthy, low-fat diet are other strategies that may help. Doctors are also looking at drugs that inhibit the immune response, and reduce damage to the myelin. For more information on M-S, consult a doctor.

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