Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system, and is the most common neurolgical disorder in young adults. It is a chronic disease that is often disabling, but isn’t fatal. Most people with MS live productive lives and learn to cope with their symptoms and limitations.
Although the exact cause is unknown, current medical opinion is that it is an abnormal response of the body’s immune system, causing it to attack itself—also known as an autoimmune disease. When the body’s myelin (a rich layer of special fatty substances around each nerve fiber) repairs itself, it is scarred—this destruction of myelin is called demyelination. Demyelination can cause nerves to signal each other abnormally, which produces the symptoms of MS.
MS symptoms can include loss of balance and coordination, blurred vision or blindness, problems speaking, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, memory loss and difficulty concentrating, paralysis and more. Symptoms vary from person to person, and people with MS can experience one of four courses of the disease. The National MS Society website outlines each of the four courses:
- Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)
- Primary Progressive MS (PPMS)
- Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS)
- Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS)
Scientists are working to develop therapies to alter the loss of myelin. While there is no known cure at this time, there are ways to treat and manage symptoms, including medication, rehabilitation and lifestyle changes.
One way to treat relapsing forms of MS is through disease-modifying drugs. You can also treat exacerbations using high-dose corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. Rehabilitation, such as physical, occupational and speech therapy, can help you improve overall physical and mental health and strengthen functional abilities. The National MS Society website has more detailed information about treatment options.
- Paralyzed Veterans Consumer Guides and publications
- Multiple Sclerosis Association of America
- Multiple Sclerosis Q&A: Reassuring Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
- National MS Society
- The First Year: Multiple Sclerosis: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed
What is ALS and what causes it?
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) weakens and eventually destroys the body’s motor neurons, making functions such as walking and talking very difficult. Paralysis quickly results.
While the exact cause of ALS is unknown, risk factors include aging and a family history of the disease. Most people who contract the disease are between the ages of 40 and 70, though younger people can also contract the disease.
Who’s at risk?
Research has told us that veterans—particularly those who served in the Gulf War—are about twice as likely to develop ALS. Environmental factors and certain genetics may also play a role in causing ALS, but more research in this area is required to understand their causal effect.
Three types of ALS:
- Sporadic: The most common form in the U.S. It can affect anyone, in any part of the world.
- Familial: An inherited form of the disease. Only 5-10% of ALS cases in the U.S. appear to be familial.
- Guamanian: A high incidence of ALS found in Guam and the Trust Territories of the Pacific in the 1950s.