Multiple sclerosis (MS) involves an immune-mediated process in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The exact antigen — or target that the immune cells are sensitized to attack — remains unknown, which is why MS is considered by many experts to be “immune-mediated” rather than “autoimmune.”
- Within the CNS, the immune system attacks myelin — the fatty substance that surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers — as well as the nerve fibers themselves.
- The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name.
- When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing a wide variety of symptoms.
- The disease is thought to be triggered in a genetically susceptible individual by a combination of one or more environmental factors.
- People with MS typically experience one of four disease courses, which can be mild, moderate or severe.
Who is affected by Multiple Sclerosis?
MS is thought to affect more than 2.3 million people worldwide. Although more people are being diagnosed with MS today than in the past, the reasons for this are not clear. Likely contributors, however, include greater awareness of the disease, better access to medical care and improved diagnostic capabilities. There is no definitive evidence that the rate of MS is generally on the increase.
Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, although MS can occur in young children and significantly older adults.
MS occurs in most ethnic groups, including African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics/Latinos, but is more common in Caucasians of northern European ancestry.
In general, MS is more common in areas farthest from the equator. However, prevalence rates may differ significantly among groups living in the same geographic area regardless of distance from the equator. For example, in spite of the latitude at which they live, MS is almost unheard of in some populations, including the Inuit, Yakutes, Hutterites, Hungarian Romani, Norwegian Lapps, Australian Aborigines and New Zealanders — indicating that ethnicity and geography interact in some complex way to impact prevalence figures in different parts of the world.
MS is at least two to three times more common in women than in men, suggesting that hormones may also play a significant role in determining susceptibility to MS. And some recent studies have suggested that the female to male ratio may be as high as three or four to one.
This month marks the 31st congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS). This year’s congress will take place in Barcelona, Spain. While this conference is for those within the industry, you can visit the National MS Society or the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America for more info on MS and ways you can become more involved within your community.
What is ECTRIMS?
The European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) is an independent representative European-wide organization devoted to multiple sclerosis (MS). For a quarter of a century, ECTRIMS has served as Europe’s and the world’s largest professional organization dedicated to the understanding and treatment of Multiple Sclerosis.
The Mission of ECRIMS is to facilitate communication, create synergies, and promote and enhance research and learning among professionals for the ultimate benefit of people affected by MS.
2015 Annual Meeting
The 2015 congress program is designed to tackle the main topics signaling the path to future MS management. We will see what is in store for diagnosis and differential diagnosis, what for early MS, what is the next step in treating patients and, more importantly, how we can shape treatment to suit each individual’s profile —maximizing efficacy and safety of complex therapies— and how the environment continues to condition MS evolution. In this regard, we shall map out the epidemiology of MS in less typified geographical areas. We will stop at the new subject of prevention as well as that of research in rehabilitation. We will also analyze what endpoints are more useful in clinical trials. The program will also devote some time to the application of new information technologies, in the program ‘MS Care 3.0′, to optimize the clinical care for patients with MS. In basic research we shall see “what is the current role of genetics and new players in neuropathogenesis of MS?”