Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system—which is comprised of the brain and spinal cord. In a healthy person, nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord rapidly send signals to each other and to the rest of the body. These signals are called nerve impulses and are critical to our functioning and way of life. They allow us to process information, feel sensations, and move freely.
But in a person with MS, these nerve signaling pathways are impaired. In other words, those nerve impulses transmitted in the brain and spinal cord—and to the rest of the body—are either slowed or not transmitted at all. This is because, in MS, a person’s immune system launches an attack against myelin—the protective coating around nerve fibers (axons) where nerve impulses travel. When myelin is damaged or destroyed by immune system cells, nerve impulses cannot travel efficiently or rapidly anymore.
Depending on the location of myelin damage in the central nervous system, a variety of symptoms can manifest. This is why the symptoms of MS are unique for each person who has it. That being said, there are symptoms of MS that are more common than others. This is because MS tends to affect certain locations within the central nervous system. For example, the brainstem (the stalk connecting the brain and spinal cord) and the cerebellum (located at the back of the brain near the brainstem) are two commonly affected areas. Damage to the brainstem and cerebellum can result in vertigo, speech problems, tremor, ataxia, and vision problems.
Another very common symptom among those with MS is fatigue. While there are a number of potential causes for fatigue, MS itself is a major culprit. As you can imagine, the constant attack on myelin and the nerve fibers—and the body’s attempt to push through and send messages—is quite an exhausting fea. This manifests as debilitating fatigue in many people with MS.
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