Multiple Sclerosis Research
What is MS?
MS is a disease of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves). It is a chronic disease and is thought to an autoimmune disease meaning that the immune system attacks healthy tissue. It is a tricky and unpredictable disease because symptoms manifest differently from person to person. Most people with MS live a normal life span but are challenged in varying degrees by the symptoms of the disease. MS is not contagious or hereditary and it’s not a mental illness.
Who has MS?
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) MS is the most common central nervous system disease among young adults in the US. Approximately 400,000 Americans have MS and it is most often diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 but any person at any stage of life can be impacted. MS can affect anyone but more than twice as many women as men have been diagnosed, and while it is found in most ethnic groups it has been found to be more prevalent among Caucasians of northern European descent.
What are the Symptoms of MS and what causes them?
Myelin is the protective insulation that surrounds the nerve fibers in a person’s central nervous system. Symptoms of MS appear when the immune system attacks the myelin in the central nervous system. Common symptoms include:
- Numbness of the toes and/or fingertips
- Tingling - “pins and needles” sensation in toes and/or fingers
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Slurred speech and problems with swallowing
- Tremors, stiffness
- Bladder and bowel problems
- Abnormal fatigue
- Eye trouble - double vision, blurry vision or uncontrolled eye movement
- Extreme weakness
- Partial or complete paralysis
How is MS diagnosed?
MS can be difficult to diagnose because early symptoms may mimic other illnesses or disorders of the central nervous system. There is no laboratory test available to easily diagnose MS. Typically patients experience at least two malfunctions of the central nervous system at least one month apart with more than one area of damage to the myelin. Doctors then schedule a complete medical exam to understand overall health, medical history and to rule out other disorders. This exam coupled with laboratory tests and often an MRI (to detect scarring of the myelin), which will all help to confirm a diagnosis.
What treatments are available?
At this time there is still no cure for MS. There are many ways to treat and impact the symptoms of MS to maintain independence, comfort and productivity. Recommendations include:
- Staying as active as possible
- Maintaining a nutritious diet
- Getting enough rest
- Participating in physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Assistive technology
- Clinical trials
There are currently eight FDA approved disease-modifying treatments available which may modify the course of the disease. These include:
For detailed information about these treatments you may wish to visit the National MS Society.
The McCourt Foundation is here to support those impacted by MS. The funds we raise go towards MS research and to help improve the quality of life for patients and families. We hope you will read more about our Educational Updates and will consider attending upcoming events to connect with other supporters and learn from our experience and research. You may also find value in the following resources:
- Core Connections - A Support group in the Boston area for those newly diagnosed with MS
- The McCourt Foundation on Facebook
- Center for Neurologic Diseases at Bringham and Women’s Hospital
- Neurology Now - Healthy living for patients and their families
- MS World - An online community of patients helping patients
- Multiple Sclerosis Association of America