- Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system and can have a major impact on the brain.
- As a result, many symptoms are cognitive, but can include vision problems, muscle weakness, dizziness, numbness and tingling, and loss of coordination.
- The biggest impact on the brain are lesions which attack myelin, a fatty substance that protects nerve fibers in the brain.
- There are some treatments that can help slow the growth of lesions and prevent long-term neurological damage.
The brain is a very complex and fascinating organ. In fact, it’s so complex it isn’t even fully understood. However we do know that when someone has multiple sclerosis (MS), it can have a major impact on their brain. According to the MS Society of Canada, MS is a chronic autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system (i.e. brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve).
While the symptoms of MS can be felt throughout the body, many are cognitive. Issues with vision, memory, balance, and mobility are all thought to be caused by lesions in the brain. Other affects relate to brain atrophy, shrinkage, and overall brain function. To better understand this disease and its affects, here’s a look into what MS looks like in the brain…
How MS Attacks the Brain
For most people with MS, symptoms don’t show up or won’t get worse until there is a flare of disease activity. When a flare occurs, “what we think happens is that there is inflammation coming from the bloodstream, and that’s the first step in a relapse or new lesion,” explains Anne Cross, MD, a professor of neurology and MS specialist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis to Everyday Health.
Dr. Cross further explains that during this process immune system cells and other substances that enter the brain won’t just act alone. They also recruit local cells to “secrete pro-inflammatory substances in the area.” Some will attack myelin, a white fatty substance that blankets nerve fibers in the brain. When myelin becomes damaged, “nerve fibers can become exposed, which may caue them to transmit signals erratically or less efficiently,” writes Everyday Health.