Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

This is a common disease of brain and spinal cord, occurring in peaks and troughs of activity. It is a frequent cause of severe disability in young adults.

The cause is unknown, though the disease is probably autoimmune in type. A popular hypothesis suggests that MS develops in genetically-susceptible individuals following certain infections acquired in early life.

Certain parts of the nervous system are preferentially affected by MS. Characteristic symptoms include blindness and eye pain, double vision, unsteadiness, limb tingling, numbness or weakness and disturbance of bowels, waterworks & sexual function. Fatigue commonly occurs and symptoms may worsen with heat as in hot weather, in a hot bath or following exercise.

Diagnosis is often not entirely straight forward. There is no one specific diagnostic test. Diagnosis depends upon clinical features and the results of MR Imaging of brain and spine, evoked potential studies and spinal fluid examination. Blood tests and chest x-ray help to exclude alternative diagnoses.

Recovery from acute episodes can be accelerated by using steroids, usually by intravenous infusion. A new range of disease-modifying drugs is now available including the beta-interferons, glatiramer & natalizumab.