So what is this weird disease? Why should you care? What is your pledge going to fight?
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that typically strikes adults in their mid 20's to 50's but can happen at any age. It is more common in women in men (66% to 34%) and the actual causes of the disease are still mysterious. There are certainly genetic and environmental components as well as age and geography, but the causes are still being actively researched. There are over 2 million people afflicted world wide, and 400 thousand in the US alone.
The mechanism of the disease, however, is understood pretty well. It is an autoimmune disease where the immune system, instead of attacking infectious agents, attacks the myelin sheaths covering the nerve fibers of the nervous system in the brain and spinal cord (see diagram below). This damage to the nerve fibers results in poor nerve conduction. Think of it like the wiring in a house - you start removing the coverings of the wires and now electricity doesn't flow correctly. There are shorts, cross wiring, and if things really get bad a fire! Same thing with MS - people afflicted have may different symptoms ranging from loss of fine motor control, partial paralysis, loss of eye sight, fatigue, numbness, and dizziness to name a few. Over time this damage to the nerves becomes cumulative. Because the brain controls everything in the body, and the nature of the disease is so random, no two people have the same symptoms or experience. Many can be fine for years between attacks, or can quickly be debilitated. This randomness is what makes this disease so horrible.
|Courtesy MS Connections located here.|
Right now there is no cure - only disease modifying treatments and drugs which increase the time between relapses. These drugs are relatively recent (1990's) and have been shown to be effective in modifying the course of the disease. The two most common treatments are injectable drugs, although a pill based medicine is winding its way through the FDA right now. But even with taking medicine relapses will happen and, over time, disability is almost guaranteed.