What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). Specifically, the disease attacks the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord. There are approximately 400,000 people with MS in the United States and some 2.5 million worldwide, with women affected two to three times as often as men. Most individuals are diagnosed between the ages of 20-50 years old, but the disease can begin during childhood or adolescence as well as later in life. MS is a highly variable and unpredictable illness and the progression, severity, and specific symptoms differ among individuals.
MS is considered an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks the myelin in the CNS. Myelin is the fatty substance that covers and protects nerve fibers and allows for the rapid transmission of signals from the brain to various parts of the body. Damage to myelin disrupts these signals and renders the nerve fibers susceptible to further injury. This can result in a variety of symptoms including blurred vision, numbness, tingling, balance difficulties, dizziness, muscle tightness, problems with coordination, and weakness
As recently as 1992, MS was not a treatable disease. Fortunately, there have been major advances in MS therapeutics over the past 15 years and we now have a variety of treatments that alter the course of the disease. Although the future is brighter than ever for MS patients, our treatments are not a cure and all are only partially effective. At the Columbia University MS Center, we optimize these treatments, help patients manage their illness, and improve their quality of life.