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  • Spinal Cord Disease

    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)
    * Lupus
    * 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

    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 limitations.

    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
    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
    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
    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)
    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
    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.

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