Watch this webinar to learn from MS expert Dr. Weigel

Chapter 1: How MS affects the body


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There is no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS), and everybody’s experience with MS is different. This series is not meant to answer questions related to specific therapies for relapsing MS, including ones from Biogen, or provide you with any type of advice. Your healthcare team is, and should always be, your primary source of information related to your MS and treatment.

Welcome to Understanding your MS! Hi, I’m Megan Weigel. I’m an MS-certified Nurse Practitioner, who specializes in caring for people with multiple sclerosis.

If you’ve found this video informative, be sure to explore for more tips and information about living with MS. We’ll talk about how MS affects your body, as well as how healthcare professionals monitor it. We’ll also discuss disease modifying therapies, the goals of treatment, and how healthcare professionals can check if a treatment is working for you. Lastly, we’ll discuss taking care of your overall health.

This video is brought to you by Biogen, and I am compensated for my time. Your healthcare team is your best resource for information regarding your healthcare and treatment.

How MS affects the body

In this video, we’ll talk about MS and how it affects your body.

MS affects the cells of the central nervous system (also known as the CNS). The CNS is made up of two parts, the brain and the spinal cord. The CNS controls most functions in your body by sending electrical signals to other parts of your body. However, MS disrupts these electrical signals.

Here we see a healthy nerve cell. Each nerve has a protective covering that functions much like a coating around an electrical wire. This is called myelin. Myelin allows messages to be sent without interruption.

But in MS, immune cells wear away the myelin and damage the nerve cells underneath. This makes it hard for nerve cells to send signals between the brain and the rest of the body. This communication breakdown may lead to symptoms that are common in people with MS.

Let’s take a step back, and talk briefly about the immune system.

Your immune system works as a defense. It is there to fight diseases or infections. In a healthy immune system, types of white blood cells known as B and T cells work to protect your body from infection or foreign attack.

But when you have MS, your immune system becomes compromised, and it gets confused. Instead of protecting you from harmful invaders, it attacks your CNS.

Normally, a layer of cells called the blood brain barrier prevents harmful substances from entering the brain and optic nerves. However, with MS, the white blood cells—those B and T cells I just mentioned—get through this protective barrier. And they mistakenly attack the nerve cells of your CNS.

Now, let’s take a closer look at how this attack affects individual nerve cells.

If you have MS, your immune system attacks the myelin of your own nerve cells. This attack wears down the myelin. And this makes it harder for these cells to send messages.

After wearing down the myelin, the immune system can actually damage the nerve fiber or cause loss of the nerve fiber altogether. Damaged nerves can make it difficult or even impossible for the nerve to send messages.

MS is a chronic disease, and it can get worse over time. It can affect everyone differently, so people can have different types of symptoms.

In a moment, I’m going to talk a little more about MS symptoms. Before I do that, I want to briefly tell you about the evolution of untreated MS.

Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) is a first event. It lasts for at least 24 hours. If the results of an MRI scan are consistent with MS lesions, there's a very strong chance that the person will be diagnosed with MS.

With relapsing-remitting MS or RRMS, there are periods when symptoms flare up and worsen. These periods are represented on the chart as the peaks. The flare-ups are then followed by periods of partial or complete recovery. Those periods are illustrated as the lower points on the chart.

Next is secondary progressive MS or SPMS. It has two stages—active and non-active. Some people with relapsing-remitting MS will develop disability that is not linked to a relapse (also known as a flare-up or attack). This is SPMS. During the first few years of SPMS, many people may still have flare-ups. This is active SPMS. Active SPMS is considered a relapsing form of MS. Years later, many people stop having flare-ups, but disability continues to worsen. This is called non-active SPMS.

Keep in mind, there is no set timeline for relapsing MS because everyone’s experience is different. If you are on an effective treatment, you may not experience a change in your MS for many years. As always, if you have questions about your condition or treatment, ask your healthcare team.

With MS, some symptoms are considered visible and can be seen by others.

Most symptoms are considered invisible. These symptoms are only seen or felt by the person with MS. People around you might think your MS isn’t causing you problems, but in fact it is—and you really may not be feeling fine.

Over time, symptoms can get worse and new symptoms can appear. Along with visible MS symptoms such as walking and mobility problems, invisible symptoms may include:

  • Cognitive problems (such as difficulties with attention, learning, and memory)
  • Mood changes
  • Fatigue (tiredness and exhaustion)
  • Physical pain
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Vision problems
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Bladder and bowel dysfunction
  • Sexual difficulties

There can be other symptoms, such as:

  • Sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Weakness or poor coordination
  • Problems maintaining balance

It is important to note that this is not the entire list of possible MS symptoms.

If you’ve found this video informative, watch the next in the series to learn about how MS is monitored.



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