No one knows what causes it, but there are a few pointers to why someone might get it. Of course, I've only found this out since being diagnosed and didn't pay much attention to it before that.
Scotland is the world's capital for MS. We have more here than anywhere else in the world. In fact, the further away you get from the equator, the more MS you find - with the exception of Norway, and I'll come back to that later. This suggests that sunlight may have an effect. Sunlight helps us produce vitamin D, therefore the less sunlight the less vitamin D. It's apparently estimated that two-thirds of the Scottish population are vitamin D deficient. We should all take supplements or eat more oily fish. Let's bring Norway back in here - in the north of Norway, they eat far more oily fish and this seems to be a factor in reducing the incidence of MS and therefore bucking the trend of the rest of the northern hemisphere.
As in my own experience, viruses appear to cause or trigger MS. In a talk I was at a few months ago given by a Canadian specialist (the Canadians are well ahead of us in MS research) he cited an example of a pair of identical twins. One had had a specific virus and the other one hadn't - the first had MS and the second one didn't. This doesn't mean every time you have a virus you're going to get MS! There are other factors involved and not all of them known or understood.
Known factors are:
- A genetic susceptibility
- Lack of sunlight and hence
- Lack of vitamin D which is made by the action of sunlight on our skin.
So, what's the effect? The nerves are covered in an insulating coating called myelin. Think of an electrical wire covered in a plastic coating. Well, the myelin gets damaged and the signals are disturbed or don't get through at all. This can cause weakness, paralysis, pain and lots of other unpleasant effects. Strangely enough, it's our own immune system that does the damage - in medical terminology 'autoimmune'. Our antibodies and defence cells attack our own nerves. The disease affects me in several ways: firstly, weakness in my legs, difficulty with balance and severe pain on one side of my head/neck. Luckily, I've got great painkillers. The other serious effect is fatigue. I run out of energy by late afternoon and spend the evenings resting or sleeping. That helps the nerves recover and I can walk better after sleeping for a while. Interesting.
It's a progressive disease, which means things get worse. But, there's no telling how long it will take. MS is also categorised into subtypes, but I'll write about that later.
Remember, this is only my understanding of the illness. I might alter my thoughts after more reading. But enough for now.