Typically, your immune system serves to safeguard you against diseases and infections, actively targeting and combating invading germs like viruses and bacteria that enter your body. However, in the case of MS, a mix-up occurs, and the immune cells mistakenly attack the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS encompasses vital components such as the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, responsible for regulating all our bodily functions. Given that MS’s damage results from the immune system’s actions, it is classified as an immune-mediated disease.
Within the CNS, the immune system in someone with MS primarily attacks:
- The Myelin coating, or sheath, around nerves
- Nerve fibers (axons)
- Cells that make myelin (oligodendrocytes)
The affected regions undergo a process of scarring, known as sclerosis, which lends the disease its name – “multiple sclerosis.” These areas of scarring, scattered across the central nervous system, lead to diverse neurological symptoms that differ in type and intensity among individuals with MS.
The precise cause behind the immune system’s assault on the central nervous system in MS is not entirely clear. However, we suspect that a combination of genetics, infectious diseases, and environmental factors acts as triggers for the onset of the disease.
What is demyelination and demyelinating disease?
In the context of MS, the immune system primarily targets the myelin sheath encasing the nerve fibers, known as axons. Axons are the elongated, threadlike structures of nerve cells. Similar to the insulation around an electrical wire safeguarding it, the myelin sheath protects these axons. The illustration below depicts how the immune system’s attack leads to damage in the myelin sheath.
In addition to targeting the myelin sheath, the immune system also attacks and harms oligodendrocytes, which further complicates the central nervous system’s ability to repair the damaged myelin. As a result, myelin loss occurs, a condition referred too as demyelination. When the myelin insulation is compromised, the axons or nerve fibers become vulnerable and may even suffer complete severance.
A medical condition that triggers this demyelination process is known as a demyelinating disease. For a more comprehensive explanation of demyelination, you can find further details on our myelin page.
Lesions refer to the damaged regions in the brain and spinal cord resulting from the immune system’s attack. The specific type and severity of symptoms that ensue depend on the number of lesions and the affected area within the central nervous system. Disease-modifying therapies have demonstrated their effectiveness in reducing the accumulation of new demyelinating lesions.
Additionally, scientists have made the discovery that the body can naturally heal some lesions. This healing process involves the stimulation of oligodendrocytes in the area or the recruitment of young oligodendrocytes from distant locations. Consequently, the body initiates the production of new myelin at the site of damage. However, this natural repair process is gradual and not always complete. Further research is necessary to gain a comprehensive understanding of the remyelination process and to develop treatments for repairing the damage effectively.
How Does Functional Neurology Help MS Patients?
The functional neurologist adopts a treatment approach for MS that involves utilizing diverse rehabilitation techniques to stimulate the brain’s neuroplasticity processes. The underlying principle of neuroplasticity revolves around providing the brain with the necessary stimuli to enhance neural system performance and restore balance in the affected neural pathways. This involves employing specific treatments and brain function rehabilitation to reorganize and modify the networks and functions of neurons, facilitating the formation of new connections.
Functional neurology treatment can be beneficial in alleviating pain and improving mobility, which, in turn, enhances the quality of life for individuals living with these conditions. By focusing on neuroplasticity and neural reorganization, this approach offers promising potential for managing MS symptoms and promoting overall well-being.
Feel free to reach out to our office today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Funk. Should you have any inquiries or concerns, don’t hesitate to call and ask. Phone: 503.640.2800