The Individual and the Disease

A disease is any deviation from or interruption of the structure or function of any body part, organ, or system that is manifested by a characteristic set of symptoms and signs and whose etiology, pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown. The net effect on the person harboring the disease is that it changes their day to day life. For the purpose of this paper I will examine Montel Williams' Life with Multiple Sclerosis. Montel Williams is a famous TV talk show host, motivational speaker, a writer and an actor. He began his career at the US navy before quitting becoming a motivational speaker. In I999 William's was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In the year 2000, he started the MS Foundation, a non-profit organization geared towards education and research on multiple sclerosis.( Mulcahy 12)    

Systems affected by Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating disease affecting the central nervous system, that is, the brain and spinal cord. Myelin, the protective sheath insulating the nervous system, is destroyed by the immune system of the body exposing the nerves triggering nervous degeneration. There are about 1.5 million Americans living with the disease.

The whole process can be illustrated using an electrical system. There is insulating cable that covers the electric wires carrying the electric current. This insulation is what protects the person from shock. It also protects the wires inside so that electricity follows uninterrupted to its destination.  What happens with multiple sclerosis is that the body's immune system destroys this insulating lining myelin.  First the myelin sheath covering the nervous system after the attack becomes swollen, with time it starts breaking down into pieces detaching itself from nerve fibers. With the progression of the disease, myelin disappears and in its place cells form sclerosed (hardened) patches of lesions (scar tissue) over the nerves. On reaching the damaged area, nerve impulses are either blocked or delayed causing symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

As the nerve axons become exposed, persons suffering from the disease experience a lot of pain.  The result is nerve degeneration. This in turn impairs movement and many of the body functions that are nerve dependent. These include the reproductive system, the excretory system, the circulatory system and the digestive system.
The prognosis of multiple sclerosis

Predicting the progression of multiple sclerosis is not easy in any patient. However, most people with the disease continue to work normally for a long time after diagnosis. Less than 5% of people with multiple sclerosis are severely affected resulting to death within five years. On the other hand, 10-20% has a benign form where symptoms either progress very slowly or do not progress at all. Recent studies show 70% of the people with multiple sclerosis is alive 25years after they were diagnosed. On average the disease shortens the life of women patients by six years and men by eleven years.

The cause of multiple sclerosis

The ultimate cause of multiple sclerosis remains unknown. However its believed among researchers that the disease occurs when a person's immune system attacks myelin, a protective sheath covering the nervous system. This abnormal behavior exhibited by the body's immune system is attributed to a combination of factors such as genetic make-up and environmental factors such as viruses.

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Scientists widely accept that a subset of white blood cells, known as T cells, is responsible for the key role in multiple sclerosis development. Normally, these lymphocytes are able to distinguish between self and non-self. In a person with multiple sclerosis,  the T cells recognize healthy parts of the central nervous system, in this case myelin, as foreign hence attacking them as if they are viruses.

It has also been established that the risk of developing this disease increases where another member of the family suffers from the same pointing to genetic factors influence. A sibling, a parent or a child of a person with multiple sclerosis has 1-3% chance of acquiring the disease. The figure climbs to 4% for non-identical twin if the other twin suffers from the disease shooting to 30% for identical twins. There is higher prevalence among people originating from northern Europe. The risk of acquiring the disease increases as you move away from the equator suggesting environmental influence.

The medication, Effects on the disease and side effects

As it stands there is no cure for multiple sclerosis. However there are medications available to patients for lessening the severity of the disease and for treating the symptoms.

Physical exercise is highly recommended to avoid muscle stiffness and weakness. Those with difficulties in moving may be aided by a walking stick or wheelchair. Additionally patients are advised to eat a well-balanced diet.
Drugs that are commonly used for multiple sclerosis include:

Corticosteroids; corticosteroids reduce the inflammation that spikes during a relapse. Examples include oral prednisone and intravenous methylprednisolone.

Interferons; These drugs such as Betaseron, Avonex and Rebif  slow down the rate at which multiple sclerosis symptoms worsen over time. Interferons can cause serious liver damage.

Glatiramer (Copaxone); Glatiramer is believed to slow down your immune system's attack on myelin. The drug is injected subcutaneously once daily. Side effects includes flushing and shortness of breath after injection.

Natalizumab (Tysabri);This drug works by interfering with the movement of potentially damaging immune cells from your bloodstream to your brain and spinal cord. Tysabri is generally reserved for people who see no results from or can't tolerate other types of treatments. It increases the risk of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy - a brain infection that is usually fatal.

Mitoxantrone  It's usually used only in people who have advanced multiple sclerosis because it's be harmful to the heart. (Noseworthy JH, et al) Montel Williams has confessed using medical marijuana to ease pain.

Montel Williams has been a living example in tackling multiple sclerosis, a disease of no mean magnitude. He has coordinated research and education on the same together with encouraging many others to accept their condition and move with confidence into the future. Research for a cure to multiple sclerosis is ongoing and there is hope that a cure could be in the making to help millions across the world who are living with this disease.

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