Spinal Cord Disease Overview
Living with a spinal cord disease can be
incredibly demanding. Thats why Paralyzed Veterans of America membership
offers resources and benefits to veterans who have several types of spinal
cord diseases. Armed with knowledge and information, you and your doctor can
make the right choices about managing these diseases and disorders.
* Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
* Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
* Spina bifida
* Spinal stenosis
* Syringomyelia (SM)
* Transverse myelitis
Explore our resources below about spinal cord diseases, and talk to us if
you need help understanding and selecting treatment options.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system, and
is the most common neurolgical disorder in young adults. It is a chronic
disease that is often disabling, but isnt fatal. Most people with MS
live productive lives and learn to cope with their symptoms and
Although the exact cause is unknown, current medical opinion is that it
is an abnormal response of the body immune system, causing it to attack
itself also known as an autoimmune disease. When the body myelin (a rich
layer of special fatty substances around each nerve fiber) repairs
itself, it is scarred this destruction of myelin is called
demyelination. Demyelination can cause nerves to signal each other
abnormally, which produces the symptoms of MS.
MS symptoms can include loss of balance and coordination, blurred vision
or blindness, problems speaking, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue,
memory loss and difficulty concentrating, paralysis and more. Symptoms
vary from person to person, and people with MS can experience one of
four courses of the disease. The National MS Society website outlines
each of the four courses:
* Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)
* Primary Progressive MS (PPMS)
* Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS)
* Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS)
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig disease) weakens and
eventually destroys the body motor neurons, making functions such as
walking and talking very difficult. Paralysis quickly results.
While the exact cause of ALS is unknown, risk factors include aging and
a family history of the disease. Most people who contract the disease
are between the ages of 40 and 70, though it is possible for younger
people to contract the disease as well. Environmental factors and
certain genetics may also play a role in causing ALS, but more research
in this area is required to understand their causal effect. Research has
told us that veterans particularly those who served in the Gulf War are
about twice as likely to develop ALS.
ALS symptoms, and the rate at which they progress, can vary greatly.
Symptoms include twitching, muscle weakness, difficulty speaking,
difficulty using arms and legs, shortness of breath and difficulty
breathing and swallowing.
Currently, there is no known cure for ALS, nor are there treatments to
slow the disease, but medication and physical therapy can help manage
symptoms. Approved medications, such as Rilutek (riluzole), can prevent
damage and improve functions. Physical therapy can be key in the early
stages of ALS, improving circulation and muscle use.
Other Spinal Cord Diseases and Disorders
Lupus is a chronic disease that causes swelling to many different
parts of the body. Symptoms such as arthritis, anemia and fever make the
disorder very hard to diagnose. Scientists believe that certain types of
infections, some antibiotics, continuedongoing exposure to ultraviolet
light and extreme stress may cause lupus. Women develop the disorder at
a much higher rate than men. Although lupus can become life-threatening
when major organs are affected, modern medical treatments have made
lupus easier to live with. Medication, exercise, relaxation and diet can
all make the disease more manageable.
Spina bifida occurs in babies during pregnancy when the spinal
column does not close completely as it should, which can lead to fluid
on the brain, motor and sensory impairments, incontinence, learning
disabilities and depression. Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent
Orange are more likely to have children with spina bifida; these
children are eligible for benefits under the Agent Orange Benefits Act.
Although there is no known cure, many people born with Sspina Bbifida
can expect to live normal and healthy lives.
Spinal stenosis occurs when an overgrowth of bone or tissue
decreases the amount of space between the spinal bones, affecting the
nerve roots. Symptoms range from numb legs and feet to paralysis when
the upper spinal region or neck is affected. Spinal stenosis can be
diagnosed through X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed
tomography (CT) scans and blood tests. It can be treated through
physical therapy, medication or, in severe cases, surgery to relieve
pressure on nerves.
Syringomyelia (SM) is a chronic spinal cord disorder that forms
before birth or as a result of an accident, tumor or disease. Fluid
flows into the spinal cord and causes a cyst that grows and damages
nerve fibers. Initial symptoms include headache, muscle weakness and
loss of sensitivity to heat and cold, particularly within the hands.
Abnormal spine growth and bone deterioration may cause scoliosis and
osteoporosis, and advanced SM can cause paralysis or quadriplegia.
Surgery can halt cystic growth and alleviate symptoms, and cysts can be
drained to relieve pressure on the spinal cord.
Transverse myelitis a group of disorders associated with spinal
cord swelling, usually occurs along with a neural injury and can cause
infection in less than a day. Symptoms include muscle and back pain and
leg weakness. Though full recovery is possible, many of those infected
are left with permanent damage, such as paralysis. Currently, there is
no known cure.