What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?



Multiple Sclerosis (or MS for short) is believed to be a chronic autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system (CNS). The central nervous system consists of the brain, optic nerves, and all the nerves in the spinal cord. In order for these nerves to properly transfer the electrical signals to and from the brain that allow us to move our muscles or feel pain, these nerves are coated with a substance called "Myelin" which builds the "Myelin Sheath". The myelin sheath is a natural insulator made up of proteins and phospholipids, a type of fatty acid. It is believed that in MS, the body's immune system (which is supposed to help fight off foreign substances like viruses so we don't get sick) malfunctions and starts attacking this myelin coating around the nerves and maybe even the "oligodendrocyte" cells, which are what actually 
produce the myelin in our bodies. 

Sound complicated? Let me make this a little simpler. In this day and age we all have electronic devices that plug into the wall, they run on electricity, we all know that right? Our bodies run on electricity as well, so think of it like this; a light switch leads to a copper wire, which leads to a light bulb. When we want to turn the light bulb on we flip the light switch and electricity is sent from the switch to the light bulb via the wire making the bulb turn on. Our brain is like the light switch, our nerves are like the copper wire, and our muscles are like the light bulb. If we want to turn our muscles on, we "flip the switch" in our brain which sends an electrical signal across our nerves (the wire) to turn that muscle on (the light bulb).

Now, let's apply Multiple Sclerosis to this analogy; If you stripped the rubber insulation off the copper wire would your light bulb work properly? Probably not, well, not safely at least! So in our analogy the wire represents our nerves but our nerves are not just one solid piece of material just as the copper wire in our light bulb analogy is not just a solid piece of copper. There are multiple parts to both our 
nerves and electrical wires. With nerves, you have the actual nerve fiber itself, which is covered in the

insulating myelin sheath much like our light bulb's copper wire is covered in an insulating rubber sheath. So just like the light bulb won't work properly after it's wire's rubber sheath has been stripped away, your muscles won't work properly after it's nerve's myelin sheath has been stripped away.

Nerves control everything in your body from lifting your arm, feeling a cool breeze against your skin, knowing if and object is hot or cold, to feeling that you stubbed your toe. Even things like maintaining your balance or using the restroom require the proper functioning of nerves! So if the myelin in your central nervous system is damaged, that would render yours nerves incapable of functioning properly and this of course means that various parts of your body may malfunction. Maybe you can't move a leg as well; you go numb in certain areas, or you loose you balance easily! There are many, many symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis and not everyone experiences them all. It all depends on where the myelin has been damaged in your central nervous system, where the "rubber insulation" is missing along your wires.

Last Updated; July 26th, 2014