What’s Going on in Your Body When You Have Relapsing MS?
By: Nurse Kimberly
If I’ve learned anything over the last few years working with people living with relapsing MS, it’s that everyone has a different approach to managing the condition. Some people like to be hands-on when it comes to MS, so they research what’s going on inside their bodies, how MS can affect their lives, and what treatment options they should consider to help manage their relapsing MS.
Then there are those who take a more passive approach. They listen to what their healthcare team has to say, take the recommended treatment, and just “go with the flow.” While listening to your healthcare team is always beneficial, I’ve noticed that my patients who get more involved in the learning process definitely benefit more. After all, the more knowledge you have, the more empowered you’ll feel to participate in conversations with your healthcare team.
In this article, I’m going to explain the underlying reasons behind MS. My goal is that after reading this article, you’ll feel less confused and more empowered. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to dive deeper into learning about MS!
Who gets MS?
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS affects more than 400,000 people in the US. So who are these 400,000 people? Well, MS affects many different kinds of people! While MS does not discriminate against anyone, experts have noticed that gender, age, race, genetics, and geographic location may have a link to MS. Here’s what we know:
- MS is more common in women than men. In fact, females are 3 times more likely to get MS than males, but males usually do experience more severe MS.
- Most people diagnosed with MS experience the onset of symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40—but remember, that’s not the case for everyone.
- MS is most common among Caucasians. However, non-Caucasians living with MS often have a more severe disease course, especially males.
- Scientists still do not know exactly what triggers MS, but there is a genetic marker, HLA-DR15, that may make you more likely to develop.1,2 MS is not, however, directly inherited.1,2
- In certain climates, like the Northern US, Canada, and Europe, MS is five times more common compared to tropical climates.2
What causes MS?
While research into the specific causes of MS is still ongoing, there are some things we definitely know.
For starters, your immune system plays a huge role in MS. You may have heard your healthcare provider refer to MS as an immune-mediated disease. That simply means your immune system isn’t responding the way it should. In the case of MS, your immune system starts to attack your central nervous system, which depending on where the damage occurs, may include the brain and spinal cord. Immune cells damage the fatty substance that protects your nerves, known as the myelin sheath.3
By the way, if you’re ever feeling a little confused about these terms—or any MS-related terms—check out this glossary from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It’s a great resource to expand your MS vocabulary!
At this point, you may be wondering exactly which immune cells are attacking the central nervous system.
And the answer to that is T and B cells. T cells and B cells are types of white blood cells in our immune systems.4 T cells are developed in the thymus gland and B cells are developed in bone marrow.4 Once these cells are activated, they gain access to the central nervous system.4 Normally, these cells would protect the body against bacteria and viruses, but in the case of MS, they start causing serious damage to the central nervous system instead.4 This is often called auto-immunity.
Our nerves are what send the signals through our bodies that allow us to think, see, hear, speak, feel, and move—so when nerves aren’t protected, those abilities can be slowed or stopped. In turn, you may start to experience MS symptoms and possibly a flare-up or relapse.
What can I do about it?
Now that you understand how MS affects the body, you’re probably wondering what steps you can take next. First and foremost, always remember to communicate with your healthcare team. By speaking up about your symptoms and how you’re feeling, you and your neurologist can work together to figure out which treatment may be the right fit for you.
You can also keep doing research. Like I said in the beginning, I’m hoping now that you know the basics, you’ll be inspired to dig a little deeper to learn even more about MS and explore your treatment options. You may even want to attend an MS event—in person or online—to learn even more.
When you’re armed with the knowledge you need, you can be proactive about your MS and hopefully find the right treatment, faster. Are there any resources you find helpful when it comes to doing MS research? Share them in the comments section below, so that others can keep them in mind when they’re doing their own research.
- MS affects many different types of people, but there are correlations to gender, certain ages, race, genetic markers, and geographic locations.
- In MS, T cells and B cells of the immune system are believed to attack myelin, which plays a key role in the central nervous system.4
- Doing research and working with your healthcare team can help you find the right treatment, faster.
References: 1. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. News 2010. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/About-the-Society/News/Study-Suggests-that-Smoking-and-Exposure-to-Epstei. Accessed May 21, 2018. 2. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Facts about MS. http://biketxh.nationalmssociety.org/site/DocServer/Facts-about-MS.pdf?docID=54383). Accessed May 21, 2018. 3. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. What is an immune-mediated disease? https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Definition-of-MS/Immune-mediated-disease. Accessed May 21, 2018. 4. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. T cells. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Definition-of-MS/T-cells. Accessed May 21, 2018.