Multiple Sclerosis: More Questions Than Answers

When I was growing up we often visited my mom’s cousin, Audrey, who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis or MS. She was always kind and always in a hospital bed on the first floor of her home. As a child I did not think much about it; it was just the way it was and it never changed. Now my college-age daughter has been dating a young man whose mother suffers from MS, so I thought it was time that I learned more about this disease with no clear etiology and no known cure.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. In MS the immune system attacks nerve fibers. The resulting nerve damage disrupts communication between the brain and the body. Its symptoms are variable and can fluctuate over time and its effects can range from relatively benign to disabling. Some of the symptoms of MS include blurred or double vision, difficulty walking, muscle weakness in the extremities, difficulty with coordination, loss of sensation, speech problems and fatigue. Doctors have to use a variety of tools and lab tests to rule out other possible disorders before confirming the diagnosis because these symptoms are common with other disorders. Unfortunately, there is no single test than can diagnose MS. Multiple Sclerosis is not contagious or inherited directly. However, Multiple Sclerosis occurs more frequently in women than in men, affects people between the ages of 20 – 40, and it predominantly affects people of European descent.

There is no cure yet for Multiple Sclerosis, so treatment varies depending on an individual’s symptoms. Researchers from around the world, including those at Johns Hopkins, are trying to identify what causes MS so they can develop better diagnostic tools and better treatments. The complications from MS can range from mild to severe, and treatments are only partially effective.  Doctors can treat flare-ups, help manage symptoms, and improve function and mobility in their MS patients.

There is still much to learn about this chronic disease and its many manifestations. The library has excellent resources if you have questions about MS or know someone who is diagnosed with MS. Living with Multiple Sclerosis is a great challenge and there remains many unanswered questions for patients of MS, doctors and researchers. Let’s hope that one day there will be answers and a cure.






Nancy Targett is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She lives in Columbia and is the proud mom of three boys and a girl and a Siamese cat.

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