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Classification of Multiple Sclerosis Types

Multiple sclerosis is a complex disease of the central nervous system that also involves the peripheral nerves of the brain and spinal cord. At present, the specific causes of multiple sclerosis are unknown, and thus the disease canít be efficiently prevented or cured. However, the good news is that multiple sclerosis is not a life-threatening disease and that the existing treatments can successfully keep its generated symptoms under control. With the aid of an appropriate course of treatment, the progression of the disease can be slowed down and patients with multiple sclerosis can live active, normal lives.

Multiple sclerosis is known to occur on the premises of myelin destruction. Myelin is a fatty substance that covers nerve cells, accomplishing a series of vital roles at the level of the nervous system: apart from protecting nerve cells and tissues from damage, myelin also facilitates the transmission of nervous impulses throughout the body. When demyelination occurs, (the process of myelin destruction, which also results in hardening of the nervous tissues) the entire nervous system becomes impaired, generating a wide variety of specific symptoms. The intensity of the symptoms produced by multiple sclerosis and the progression of the disease are strongly influenced by the proportions of the demyelination process and the location of the hardened lesions.

According to the intensity and frequency of its generated symptoms, as well as its rate of progression, multiple sclerosis can be categorized in two distinctive groups: the relapsing-remitting type and the chronic-progressive type. The chronic-progressive variety of multiple sclerosis can be further categorized as primary-progressive, secondary-progressive and progressive-relapsing.

The relapsing-remitting type of multiple sclerosis is the most common form of the disease and it predominantly affects young and middle-aged persons. The major characteristic of the relapsing-remitting type of multiple sclerosis is that its generated symptoms are mild and tend to occur in flares. After short periods of symptomatic flare-up, the disease goes into remission, producing no perceivable symptoms for periods of a few weeks or even months. The periods of remission usually occur naturally, although immunosuppressive drugs can also influence the occurrence and the duration of remission periods. However, the periods of remission are usually followed by short periods of relapse, characterized by intensification of the overall symptoms.

The chronic-progressive type of multiple sclerosis refers to cases that are slow-progressing and donít involve spontaneous periods of remission. Chronic-progressive multiple sclerosis predominantly affects persons with ages over 45. Around 20 percent of all multiple sclerosis cases are of chronic-progressive type. Primary-progressive multiple sclerosis has a predictable pattern of progression, gradually evolving without periods of remission. This subtype affects around 10 percent of patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The secondary-progressive subtype affects about 50 percent of patients diagnosed with the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis. Unlike the previously described subtype, secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis occasionally involves flare-ups and periods of remission. The progressive-relapsing subtype is a very rare form of chronic-progressive multiple sclerosis. This subtype is gradually progressive and is characterized by short periods of symptomatic flare-up.

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