Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord.
But is it caused by glandular fever and what is the Epstein Barr virus?
Here’s what you need to know.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.
The condition is lifelong and can sometimes cause serious disability, although it can occasionally be mild.
In many cases, it's possible to treat symptoms.
What causes it?
MS is an autoimmune condition, which is when something goes wrong with the immune system and it mistakenly attacks a healthy part of the body.
In MS the immune system mistakenly attacks the brain or spinal cord of the nervous system, attacking the layer that surrounds and protects the nerves called the myelin sheath.
This then damages and scars the sheath, and potentially the underlying nerves, which means that messages travelling along the nerves become slowed or disrupted.
According to the NHS, exactly what causes the immune system to act in this way is unclear, but “most experts think a combination of genetic and environmental factors is involved”.
What are the symptoms of MS?
Some of the most common symptoms of MS include:
- vision problems
- numbness and tingling
- muscle spasms, stiffness and weakness
- mobility problems
- problems with thinking, learning and planning
- depression and anxiety
- sexual problems
- bladder problems
- bowel problems
- speech and swallowing difficulties
What is the Epstein-Barr virus and can glandular fever cause MS?
A huge study of US military personnel suggests almost all cases of multiple sclerosis are triggered by the common Epstein-Barr virus.
A study of 10 million military personnel in the US has shown that almost every case of MS is preceded by infection with the virus, with the findings suggesting a vaccine against the Epstein-Barr virus could greatly reduce the incidence of MS.
Alberto Ascherio at Harvard University said: “This is really a turning point. It should lead to better ways to treat MS as well as help to prevent it.”
The Epstein-Barr virus is a virus that spreads mainly via saliva, such as kissing or drinking from the same glass.
It is the cause of mononucleosis, also known as glandular fever.
Initial infections with the Epstein-Barr virus may cause little to no symptoms, but once the virus gets into immune cells called B cells, it lurks in them permanently, according to New Scientist.
Glandular fever is a type of viral infection that mostly affects young adults, with common symptoms including:
- a high temperature (fever)
- a severely sore throat
- swollen glands in the neck
- fatigue (extreme tiredness)
Most people get better with no problems, but sometimes glandular fever may lead to other problems like:
- mild liver inflammation (hepatitis), which causes yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- low levels of blood cells called platelets (thrombocytopenia)
- neurological conditions, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome or Bell's palsy