Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS). The cells of the CNS, which include the brain and spinal cord, are covered with a protective myelin sheath. For people with MS, three abnormal processes begin to occur in the cells of the CNS:
1. patches of inflammation begin to occur in areas of the brain and spinal cord;
2. the myelin sheaths around the cells affected by inflammation begin to deteriorate, also known as demyelination; and
3. the nerve fibers, or axons, are stripped of the protective myelin, and begin to be destroyed; i.e., the nerve fibers lose the synapse connection that the myelin sheaths ordinarily provide.
Without the ability to conduct these signals, the CNS cannot communicate the vital information that it is responsible for conveying to the rest of the body.
It is important to understand that the process of demyelination and deterioration differs from person to person, and that the course of the disease varies greatly.
It is still not completely understood what causes MS. But, for whatever reason, the immune system turns on itself and attacks the nerve cells . . . turning against the very organs and tissues it is meant to protect. This condition is known as an auto-immune disease.
In MS, the cells of the immune system attack the healthy cells of the CNS and destroy the myelin coating that protects individual cells, resulting in scar tissue in place of the healthy cell. These demyelinated areas are also known as plaque, and appear as small white patches on an MRI indicating the existence of a neurological abnormality, or MS.
Blackstone, Margaret. The First Year – Multiple Sclerosis: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. New York: Marlowe & Company, 2003.
Nichols, Judith Lynn. Women Living with Multiple Sclerosis. California: Hunter House, Inc. Publishers, 1999.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society: Lone Star. Texas.