Is Multiple Sclerosis Curable or Preventable?

Multiple sclerosis is interesting to me because I have known several people – friends – who have been afflicted with the disease. I had hoped that research in the subject would reveal to me that progress was being toward finding a cure. Unfortunately, that is only partially true. The Mayo Clinic website that I visited lists MS as an incurable disease, though there are now medicines that will delay its progress.

That is very important because, through watching my friends with it, it is clear that it is a progressive disease and, from all accounts, irreversible. These observations were confirmed by my research. The Mayo website states: “There’s no cure for multiple sclerosis. However, treatments can help modify and slow the course of the disease and treat symptoms.”

Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating disease with the following symptoms: numbness of limbs, loss of vision – especially in one eye – sometimes with pain in the eye, tingling or pain in parts of the body, tremors, lack of coordination, difficulty walking, fatigue and dizziness.

These symptoms result, according to the Mayo Clinic report, when “the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue….this process destroys myelin – the fatty substance that coats and protects the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. When myelin is damaged, the messages that travel along that nerve may be slowed or blocked”.

The disease has been inflicted on between 250 thousand and 350 thousand Americans, according to the report. Most people are diagnosed with MS between the ages of twenty and fort, although, occasionally, it has attacked some very young and some older people. Interesting facts are that whites are twice as likely to have the disease as other races and women are twice as likely as men.

I have first hand evidence on how the disease can progress. My dear friend was in her late twenties when I first met her thirteen years ago. She had been diagnosed just a couple of years before. At that time she was coping with two young sons and experiencing a few symptoms: numbness in her joints and occasional difficulty with her limbs. I have watched her steadily decline, until now she is confined to a wheelchair. Much to her credit, she brings herself to school here at Forest Park Community College and deals quite well with two teenage sons.

Another victim of multiple sclerosis that I know is a man in his fifties that was diagnosed over thirty years ago. Although he walks with a cane, he works twenty hours a week as a checker at a grocery store. Clearly, all victims are not affected in the same way and to the same degree.

Perhaps, if the causes of the decease were known, it would be possible to find a cure or, at least, to design protective measures against it. The Mayo report states: “Doctors and researchers don’t understand why multiple sclerosis develops in some people and not in others. A combination of factors ranging from genetics to nutrition and infection may play a part.”

Because of my personal interest in this disease, I wanted to find what progress has been made toward finding a cure and pin-pointing the cause. I went to the NIH site and found that there has been some movement in the last decade, although primarily in the area of finding new tools to aid in finding cures rather than in finding the cures themselves. It says: “New tools, such as MRI have redefined the natural history of MS and are proving invaluable in monitoring disease activity.”

Scientists are now able to visualize and follow the development of MS lesions in the brain and spinal cord…Other tools have been found that make the painstaking work of teasing out the disease’s genetic secrets possible.

Treatments have been found that may make it possible to slow the development of the disease and to treat the symptoms. Let us hope the next decade will find a real cure. The least we can hope for is that science will discover the cause or causes of MS so that we learn what we must do to prevent this terrible affliction from attacking us.