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Multiple sclerosis: what is it?
Multiple sclerosis means "many scars" in German. Tissue damage results from inflammation in the central nervous system (CNS; brain and spinal cord). The CNS controls thinking and various body functions through the transmission of signals via nerve fibers (axons). Like electrical cables, these are surrounded by a kind of protective or insulating layer, the so-called medullary or myelin sheaths.
If the myelin is damaged (also called demyelinating), "transmission errors" and the resulting symptoms arise. Depending on the affected CNS region, they can manifest themselves in a wide variety of ways, for example as tingling, loss of feeling, impaired vision, mobility, emptying the bladder and bowel or being easily fatigued. In addition, the nerve fibers themselves can be damaged, resulting in permanent neurological symptoms.
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Incidence of MS
In Austria around 12,500 people live with multiple sclerosis (MS), which means that around one in 700 falls ill. Around 400 new cases are diagnosed every year. There has been an increase in MS diagnoses over the past few decades. Women are affected by the relapsing form two to three times as often as men. In the continuous form, women and men are affected equally often. MS usually first appears between the ages of 20 and 40. In up to five percent, the disease begins in childhood or adolescence; new diseases are even rarer in older people.
Causes of MS development
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease. The (body's own) structures of the central nervous system are attacked and destroyed. The causes have not yet been fully clarified. It is assumed that genetic principles interact with lifestyle and environmental factors. Any infections you have suffered (e.g. with the Epstein-Barr virus), a vitamin D level that is too low or the extent of sun exposure may play a role. MS is not an infectious disease in the strict sense and is not contagious. Cigarette consumption, including secondhand smoke (children!), Apparently increases the risk of developing MS. The proportion of hereditary factors in the disease is estimated at around 30 to 60 percent.
MS is slightly more common in family members, but it is not a hereditary disease in the strict sense. Research suggests that the risk of developing MS disease is not controlled by a single “MS gene”, but rather by a combination of many different genes and gene variants.