Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. The etiology of MS remains unknown. It is generally believed to result from an autoimmune response in susceptible individuals. A number of factors are correlated with the incidence of MS. These factors include: race, family, gender, geography and diet.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that nearly 400,000 Americans have MS. MS is often, but not always, a progressively debilitating disease. It is usually experienced as periods of exacerbation followed by partial remission of symptoms. Affected individuals experience a broad range of symptoms which vary due to the site and extent of the CNS involvement. Symptoms may include temporary or permanent cognitive, sensory and motor deficits that can significantly limit independent activities of daily living.
Historically, during the mid-1880's, Jean Martin Charcot described a disorder characterized by multiple patches or plaques of sclerosed (scarred) areas scattered throughout the CNS (brain, spinal cord and cranial nerves). Modern techniques reveal these plaques as areas of inflammation, demyelination and axonal injury.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the primary tool used to diagnose MS. MRI is able to identify and quantify the multiple round or ovoid lesions which characterize MS. MRI studies have correlated the cumulative volume of affected tissue with prognosis.
Currently there is no way to prevent or cure MS. The goal of multiple sclerosis therapy is to alter its natural course by: