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How does Multiple Sclerosis affect the Immune System?

How does Multiple Sclerosis affect the Immune System?

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune, neurodegenerative and inflammatory condition  that attacks the central nervous system. It corrupts the immune system, making it work against the body. A healthy immune system protects the body from infections. However, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues. To this day, scientists and medical experts haven’t been able to pinpoint   the exact cause. Simply put, there’s no reason why the immune system should malfunction but in the case of MS, it does. And this is why MS is also an autoimmune disease.

Healthy immune system

The immune system is a collection of cells, proteins, and organs. It protects the body from infection, illness, disease (caused by foreign substances such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi,). The immune system attacks and destroys these substances before they have a chance to attack the body.

White blood cells, also called lymphocytes, are the agents of the immune system. Through the lymphatic system, these lymphocytes make their way around the body. The lymphatic system is a network of organs, nodes, and vessels that transport a clear and watery fluid (lymph) back into your bloodstream.

There are two types of lymphocytes that form a healthy immune system:

  • B Cells are developed in the bone marrow. They produce antibodies that remove foreign substances from the body.
  • T Cells mature in the thymus gland. They counterattack foreign substances by releasing chemicals that lead to inflammation, and ultimately destroy them. T Cells are also known to activate B Cells.

MS immune system

In medical terms, Multiple Sclerosis is a demyelinating disorder of the central nervous system, caused by breakage in the myelin sheath (a thin layer covering the axons of the neuron). 

When the immune system is made to malfunction (due to MS) it destroys its own cells and tissues. But why does it do so? Because it is made to believe that its own cells are a threat.

The first to go awry are the T-Cells.

The Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) ensures foreign substances do not enter the brain and optic nerves. MS causes the T-Cells to penetrate the BBB and attack the fatty layer that protects the nerves in the brain. This layer is known as myelin. Once the T-Cells are in, they attack the cells in the brain by releasing the same inflammatory chemical that destroys foreign substances.

When the myelin along with the nerve fibers are attacked and destroyed, scar tissue disrupts the communication routes between the central nervous system (CNS) and the rest of the body.

Imagine a situation where you are entrusted with the safety and security of a precious stone. Initially, you guard it with all your strength and dedication. However, somewhere during this process of defense, you change your mind. This change happens for no reason! Instead of keeping the precious stone safe, you throw it down onto the floor. Each shard of stone is now a hazard. Each shard of stone has now become a danger to you. The very thing you are trying to protect, actually turns against you.  

Symptoms and signs to look out for

Although MS leads to the gradual self-destruction of the central nervous system, its symptoms may differ from person to person and also depends on which nerve signals have been affected.

Let us look at some of the most common symptoms first:

  • Fatigue: This is unlike the typical exhaustion you experience at the end of a busy day at work. This is mind-numbing, bone-tiring exhaustion. It happens due to the disease itself, but there are factors like poor sleep habits, inactivity, depression, medications
  • Abnormal sensations like numbness, tingling: Invariably caused by the overheating of the body
  • Dysesthesia: Painful sensations while carrying out everyday tasks
  • Allodynia: Feeling pain when you touch things that wouldn’t ordinarily cause pain
  • Double vision or blurry vision: Since the disease directly affects the optic nerve, visual changes may be among the first symptoms of MS
  • Muscle issues: Weak muscles are a result of damage to nerve fibers in the central nervous system thereby disrupting the communication between nerves and muscles. This can also lead to loss of balance and walking troubles.
  • Loss of bladder control: Inflammation in the brain and spinal cord interfere with nerve impulses that check vision, movement, bodily functions like bladder control, and more.
  • Depression: The psychological devastation caused by MS is almost as much as the physiological and neurological devastation.
  • Cognitive impairment: Inflammation in the brain impairs memory, concentration, attention, visual perception, information processing, verbal skills, and other executive functions that require logical and analytical thinking.

Unfortunately, the above symptoms also come with their own set of complications like:

  • Osteoporosis: MS is known to cause bone loss due to gradual decline of motor function. This in turn can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Pressure sores: Lack of physical activity owing to stiff and weak muscles can lead to patients with MS becoming bedridden. This eventually leads to painful sores.
  • Aspiration pneumonia: The accidental inhaling of food particles due to swallowing issues or even the inability to clear mucus from throat/nose.

What we need to always keep in mind regarding the symptoms of MS is that they can differ from person to person. This is because the damage to nerve signals and their corresponding impact on day-to-day functioning may be subjective. For eg. Person A may experience blurred vision whilst Person B may have tingling sensations along with constant fatigue.

Prognosis and Treatment

MS can be diagnosed by symptomatology, MRI findings, Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) analysis, and Visual Evoked Response (VER).

The fact that you can absolutely live life to the fullest in spite of an MS diagnosis shouldn’t be forgotten. There are traditional and modern ways to treat the disease and slow down the rate of progression.

Traditional treatment options include:

  • Disease-Modifying Therapy (DMT): These come in three forms – oral medication, injections, and IV infusion. DMT aims to reduce the number of relapses as well as reduce the size of lesions (inflammations) in the central nervous system.
  • Medications for fatigue, pain, other MS symptoms like sexual dysfunction, cognitive impairment, etc.
  • Exercise: Brisk walking, swimming, stretching and strengthening to improve range of motion and can boost the cardiovascular system.

Modern/Non-Prescription treatment options include:

  • Occupational and physical therapy: Enables the patient to perform day-to-day functions like showering, driving, gardening, working, taking medications (this helps build concentration, improves memory, and reduces fatigue). Additionally, occupational therapy also improves cognitive abilities, teaches the patient to conserve energy, offer assistive and adaptive aids like wheelchairs, canes, walkers, etc.
  • Stem cell therapy: The administration of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) has shown incredible promise to help improve symptoms. The immunomodulatory (ability to regulate the immune system), tissue-protective and repair-promoting properties of MSCs make stem cell therapy the ideal alternative to traditional prescription-based treatment for MS and other similar conditions. Patients have noticed an increase in energy, flexibility, strength, mobility, and control of basic function.

At Plexus Bangalore, we take great care to make sure your quality of life does not suffer due to MS. Early detection and swift treatment along with constant support and encouragement will make you realise a diagnosis on paper will not stand in your way!

Book an appointment with us today.

Call +91 89048 42087 | 080-2546 0886

080-2547 0886 | 080-2549 0886


Are patients with MS immunocompromised?

Not necessarily. However, if the patient is undergoing any disease-modifying therapies, then they may be at risk of other viral infections, including COVID-19. This is because these therapies alter the immune system and can possibly make the patient susceptible to contracting a virus.

Is MS caused by an overactive immune system?

MS caused the immune system to function in an adverse manner. The immune system ends up attacking the central nervous system. It is not caused by an overactive immune system.

What is the main cause of MS?

Doctors and scientists believe MS may be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

Can MS be seen in MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the most useful test for the diagnosis of MS. It shows the lesions (inflammation) in the white matter in the brain. Changes in or near the cortex may also be seen in an MRI.

Does MS change your personality?

MS can change the way a patient responds to a particular stimulus or situation. Some people experience anxiety or depression. Many have experienced uncontrollable/inexplicable changes to their emotions.

Does MS affect your mental capacity?

Some people may develop issues with cognition. Certain functions that are likely to be affected are:

  • Memory
  • Concentration and attention
  • Information processing
  • Planning and decision-making
  • Visual perception
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