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Essay/Term paper: Multiple sclerosis

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Medicine

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Multiple Sclerosis

Jason Garoutte November 18, 1996 English / Mr. Blunt

Multiple sclerosis is one of the most misunderstood diseases of this
century. Since it's discovery, there is still no known causes, no proven
treatments, and no known cure, yet it affects possibly five hundred thousand
people in the United States alone. People need to learn more about this disease
so it can be brought to the attention of the nation.
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system. It destroys
the fatty myelin sheath that insulates your nerve cells. Without this
insulation, nerve communication is disrupted. The body then makes this worse by
repairing it, and clogging the area with scar tissue. Signals going from your
brain and brain stem, such as muscle coordination signals or visual sensation
signals, are slowed greatly, or just blocked off. Thus, a person afflicted with
Multiple Sclerosis can suffer any number of symptoms.
Researchers are not sure yet as to the cause of Multiple Sclerosis. There
is a kind of deadlock among scientists and doctors whether it's hereditary,
viral, or a combination of the two, with the disease being hereditary, but with
a viral trigger, or just a simple chemical imbalance in the immune system. One
thing is certain, though. Some sort of defect in the immune system causes white
blood cells to attack and destroy the myelin sheath.
There are five main types of Multiple Sclerosis. The first type is Benign
Multiple Sclerosis. It is the least severe, has little progression, and takes up
twenty percent of all cases. The second type is Benign Relapsing-Remitting
Multiple Sclerosis. It carries symptoms that fluctuate in severity, mild
disability, and it makes up thirty percent of the total. The third type is
Chronic Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis. It is characterized by disability that
increases with each attack, and it is the most common with forty percent of all
cases. Chronic Progressive Multiple Sclerosis is the fourth type. It has
continuous disability that worsens as time goes by, and ten percent of all cases
are this. The last type is a very rare class called Acute Progressive Multiple
Sclerosis. This kind can kill in weeks or months, in contrast with the usual
years or decades.
Due to the type of disease and the areas it affects, there are a great
number of possible symptoms. These symptoms can fool the most experienced
physician into thinking that it is a psychological disease. The most common
symptoms are bouts of overwhelming fatigue, loss of coordination, muscle
weakness, numbness, slurred speech, and visual difficulties. These symptoms may
occur for a number of years before one is actually diagnosed, and these symptoms
will appear with little or no warning. Attacks of these symptoms appear most
often three to four years after the first incident.
Multiple Sclerosis is diagnosed by a number of ways. Most of the time, the
first test done is an MRI -- Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanner. This test maps
out your brain and looks for areas that have been scarred over, or 'plaques',
and usually takes an hour. White spots on normally gray areas usually signify a
plaque. Next, a lumbar puncture, more commonly known as a spinal tap, is done.
This test involves some discomfort, and although the actual puncture lasts only
fifteen minutes, the procedure can leave the patient disabled for anywhere from
two hours to two weeks. About a week after the spinal tap is done, a series of
three tests are performed to measure the time it takes for impulses to travel
through your brain and nerves. These tests are known separately as the Visual
Evoked Potential Test, the Auditory Evoked Potential Test, and the
Electrodiagnostic Test. The Visual Evoked Potential Test, or V.E.P., records
the brain wave patterns and reaction time with alternating patterns on a nearby
monitor. The Auditory Evoked Potential Test, or A.E.P., uses pulses of sharp
'clicks' to time your reactions. In the final test, the electrodiagnostic, an
electric current is passed through certain pressure points, and sensors on the
head, chest, and back record just how fast the impulses are transmitting through
your body and brain. With the positioning of the sensors, the technician can
determine where a slowdown, if any, is occurring.
The disease cannot be cured, and treatments are few. There is no common
treatment that researchers can agree on. Some swear by diet treatments, which
have been found by patients in nonclinical studies to slow or arrest the
advancement of Multiple Sclerosis. Usually the diet therapies involve a few
months eliminating allergic foods from your diet, and since foods that are
slightly allergic are usually your favorite foods, it's a very hard treatment to
stick to. Others swear by drugs and the like, such as ACTH (adrenocorticotropic
hormone), which is the most commonly prescribed treatment, or copolymer I and
cyclosporine, which have shown promise in laboratory studies.
The statistics of Multiple Sclerosis are puzzling at best. For example,
the fact that there are many more cases in the northern latitudes than in the
southern latitudes is one thing that confuses researchers. As you approach the
equator, patients suffering with Multiple Sclerosis are almost zero. Also, most
victims are between the ages of twenty and forty-five years old, with the
majority of them being women. Multiple Sclerosis also affects more people of
the Caucasian persuasion. Multiple Sclerosis affects an estimated three hundred
fifty to five hundred thousand Americans, with eight thousand more cases being
reported each year. Fortunately, the average life span of a patient with
Multiple Sclerosis is seventy-five percent of normal, and only a quarter of all
diagnosed will ever need a wheelchair.
Multiple Sclerosis is one of the most confusing diseases that has ever
afflicted mankind. More and more possible treatments are found, but still no
cure. So people with Multiple Sclerosis must learn to live with the disease,
learn to cope. And others should learn more about the disease, so it isn't
ignored in the future.


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