Nerve cells are protected by fatty tissue sleeves called myelin sheaths. These cells are responsible for transmitting signals back and forth between the brain and other parts of the body. Myelin sheathing on the nerves is a similar concept to how an electrical wire has insulation on the outside to protect it. Many things can cause damage to the myelin sheath, which is called demyelination. When there is no myelin protective sheath around the nerves, they can become scarred. Demyelination and nerve scarring most often result in neurological problems due to the interruption in the messages being sent between the brain and the nerves of other body parts. Many factors can cause a demyelinating disease such as brain blood vessel damage, oxygen deprivation to the brain, certain genes, certain viruses, and autoimmune inflammation. Get to know the various types of demyelination now.
Optic neuritis is another inflammation caused by the immune system that affects the optic nerve, which attaches the brain to the eyes. In this condition, the immune system attacks the optic nerve and eats away at the myelin sleeve protecting it. In uncommon cases, this can be triggered by an infection and the immune system response to such infection. This condition also has a rapid onset of symptoms including the blurring of the vision, difficulty with peripheral vision, blindness, pain when moving the eyes, color vision loss, a hole in the middle of the vision, and headache. Children tend to experience optic neuritis in both eyes, while adults typically only experience it with one eye. In the majority of cases, optic neuritis will resolve on its own with time. Intravenous steroids are often prescribed to expedite the recovery process. In some cases, intravenous immune globulin may be needed as well. If the optic neuritis has been caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, shots to replace that vitamin may be prescribed as treatment.
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Multiple sclerosis is the most prevalent variation of demyelinating disorders, clocking in at one diagnosis per five hundred individuals. Multiple sclerosis is when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the optic nerve, brain, and spinal cord. Most cases are due to genetic factors, but it can also be a result of environmental factors as well. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis than men are. There are four variations of multiple sclerosis that differ in severity of the disorder. The immune proteins strip the nerve axons or nerve 'tails' of the myelin that protects them within the brain and spinal cord region. The massive scarring that results from this most likely results in problems with vision, odd sensations like burning and tingling, difficulty with movement, and severe fatigue. There is no way to cure multiple sclerosis, so treatment plans are based on managing the symptoms.
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Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis
Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis happens when the body's immune system reacts to viral or bacterial infections by attacking its own healthy tissues. This condition is a widespread episode of inflammation that causes mass damage to the myelin sheaths of the nerve cells in the spinal cord and the brain. Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis can also strip sheathing off of the nerve that attaches the eyes to the brain, or the optic nerve. Another very uncommon cause of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis is an immune system reaction resulting from a vaccine. This condition has a rapid onset of symptoms, including coordination difficulties, confusion, headache, fever, issues with eyesight, nausea, vomiting, and irritation. The quicker acute disseminated encephalomyelitis is diagnosed, the quicker doctors can utilize anti-inflammatory medications to minimize the damage done to the myelin sheaths on the nerve cells of the spinal cord and brain. Symptoms are also treated to help with comfort. In rare instances, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis can be a fatal condition when it is not treated. Individuals with this condition typically have a three to six month recovery time.
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Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy
Myelin is produced by what is called white matter cells inside of the brain. Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy causes demyelination of the nerve cells by attacking the white matter in the brain, so myelin cannot be produced. The JC virus is what causes this to happen. The JC virus is present in most adult bodies, however, it is normally not problematic. When the immune system has been compromised by AIDS, cancer, immunosuppressants, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or multiple sclerosis, it may be the cause for the individual developing progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. The symptoms that typically occur in cases of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy include vision loss, difficulty with speaking, muscle weakening, drooping of the face, coordination loss, trouble walking, and changes in personality. There are currently no antiviral drugs to fight off and kill the JC virus that causes this condition. The damage done by progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy is permanent, as white matter in the brain does not regenerate itself. The best treatment for progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy to date is to treat the underlying cause of the weakened immune system that was unable to fight off the JC virus.
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Hypoxic-ischemic demyelination is damage to the nerve myelin sheath caused by a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury. These injuries to the brain occur with respiratory arrest, near-hanging, cardiac arrest, near-drowning, or anything else that causes incomplete suffocation. Hypoxic is a word used to describe a dangerous lack of oxygen, and ischemia is used to describe a damaging decrease in blood supply. The injury causes the brain to have no oxygen supply as a result of reduced blood supply. When the brain has so oxygen because the blood supply is cut off, the brain cells and tissues begin to die off. This can happen to parts of the brain that house white matter. White matter is a term used for the specialized cells that make myelin for the nerve cells. White matter does not regenerate itself so this type of demyelination usually causes irreversible nerve damage. The severity of the symptoms that result in the injury afflicted to the brain is mostly dependent upon how long the brain was without blood flow and oxygen.