Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative condition that affects the nerves in the brain and the spinal cord, causing problems with movement, balance and vision. In the UK around 100,000 people are affected and nearly twice as many women as men have MS. The condition affects more than 2 million people worldwide.
MS is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system is responsible for attacking healthy tissues in the body, in this case the brain and central nervous system. The cause of MS is not known but it is likely to be a combination of genetics and environmental factors. There is currently no cure for MS. In the past a number of drugs have been used to alleviate the symptoms of MS, but the effectiveness of many are disputable, and they often give rise to negative side effects. For this reason patients and doctors are still looking for a breakthrough in MS treatment.
Some recent clinical studies have suggested that a condition called chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), may contribute to the nervous system damage that is a feature of MS. CCSVI is an abnormality in the way in which blood drains from the brain and spinal cord back to the heart. The initial research into this condition was carried out by a team in Italy headed by Dr Paolo Zamboni, a vascular surgeon and the results were published in 2008. The team of scientists discovered that in patients with MS the veins in the neck and chest responsible for draining blood back from the brain to the heart were narrowed or sometimes blocked. This causes the blood to flow back towards the brain as a new route around the blocked vein is sought. Dr Zamboni suggested that this slow, circuitous blood flow leads to iron deposits and autoimmune activity, which could account for the lesions that are found in the brains and spinal cords of people with MS. He further proposed that an endovascular procedure called balloon angioplasty could be used to remove the blockages. This topic was inevitably of huge interest to the sufferers of MS but is the subject of considerable scientific debate.
Associated with the nervous system and the brain.Full medical glossary