What causes multiple sclerosis, and how is it treated?

MS_bookMultiple sclerosis (MS) is considered an unpredictable and debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system.

The body’s own immune system attacks the myelin coating that protects the nerve fibers and interrupts the communication between the brain and the rest of the body.

 

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes the severity of MS and lists it in the Neurological section of its Blue Book. But even though this disease is included in the listing of impairments, getting a disability claim approved for MS isn’t always easy. That’s why it’s helpful to hire a SS disability lawyer to step you through the claims process and advocate on your behalf.

What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?

The exact cause of MS is unknown. However, researchers believe there are four main factors that may influence the development of MS:

  • Genetic factors. Researchers believe that several genes factor into MS. You may be at an increased risk of developing MS if you have a close relative with the disease. Additionally, if one parent has MS, there is a 2–5 percent chance that any children will get the disease.
  • Infectious factors. Researchers are studying the possibility that bacteria and viruses cause MS, and they’re looking specifically at the measles virus, human herpes virus, and the Epstein-Barr virus. Viruses can cause inflammation and demyelination—the breakdown of myelin that protects nerve fibers. Researchers think it’s possible that a virus could be an underlying cause of MS.
  • Environmental factors. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in protecting against MS. The farther away you live from the equator, the greater your risk of developing this disease. Because sunlight is a primary source of vitamin D for the body, researchers think there's a link between exposure to sunlight and a reduced risk of getting MS. For example, people who live in northern states are twice as likely to develop MS than those who live in Texas or Louisiana.
  • Immunologic factors. When people suffer from MS, their immune system fails, and it attacks the body’s central nervous system. Researchers don’t know why the immune system targets and attacks the myelin coating of the nerve fibers.

Types and Symptoms of MS

MS is considered a progressive disease. The symptoms of MS worsen over time and become increasingly disabling. Ultimately, a patient will suffer loss of many body functions even if he has few symptoms. Each person experiences the symptoms of MS differently, and while some people face ongoing functional deterioration, others live for long periods of time without serious symptoms. The following highlights some of the different types of MS:

  • Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS). RRMS is considered the most common form of MS, and approximately 85 percent of people who suffer from MS are first diagnosed with it. When new symptoms occur, patients with RRMS have flare-ups, relapses, or exacerbations. Following acute attacks, patients usually have a partial or complete recovery called remissions.
  • Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS). For patients suffering from SPMS, the symptoms will get worse over time whether or not they experience relapses or remissions. Most patients who are initially diagnosed with RRMS will ultimately develop SPMS.
  • Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS). Only about 10 percent of people who suffer from MS will develop PPMS. It presents initially as slowly worsening symptoms and reduced neurologic function with no remissions or relapses.
  • Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS). This is a rare form of MS, and only about 5 percent of individuals suffering from the condition have PRMS. Patients with PRMS see steadily worsening symptoms from the very beginning with acute relapses, with or without recovery.

Patients who suffer from MS cope with a variety of symptoms that can be both challenging and disabling. These symptoms, which can impact many parts of the body, include:

  • Loss of hearing
  • Dizziness and loss of balance
  • Fatigue
  • Problems swallowing and chewing food
  • Problems with speech or slurred speech
  • Issues with memory and concentration
  • Issues with depression
  • Problems with coordination and walking
  • Problems with bladder and bowels
  • Problems with double vision and/or loss of vision
  • Problems with tremors
  • Problems with cognition

Treatment

The main goal in treating MS is to slow down the progression of the disease, minimize symptoms during a flare-up, and improve functionality. Drugs that help slow the advancement of the disease are called disease-modifying medications. One drug approved in 2012 for people suffering from MS was Teriflunomide (Aubagio). One study found that people who suffered from relapsing MS and took Teriflunomide showed decreased progression of the disease and had fewer relapses.

In 2013, another disease-modifying drug was approved for those suffering from MS. Designed for those with RRMS, Dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera) helped stop the body’s immune system from attacking itself and destroying the myelin coating on the nerve fibers. Additionally, because myelin destruction impacts the communication between the nerves, a body’s ability to move is often affected.  Studies found that the drug Dalfampridine (Ampyra) increased walking speed in people with MS.

We Can Help

If you or a family member suffers from MS and need help applying for SS benefits, the attorneys at Cuddigan Law offer experience and skill to help you get the financial support you need and deserve. Cuddigan Law handles SS disability claims for clients who need assistance with their applications, or the appeals process if their claim was denied. We want to help, so contact us by phone at (402) 933-5405, or fill out our online form.