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Myelin is the compound that makes up the protective sheath surrounding the brain and its complex web of nerve cells. Various demyelination conditions can cause the body's immune systems to attack this padding, most notably multiple sclerosis (MS), which produces a long list of damaging symptoms. Though there is no cure for many brain demyelination disorders, certain treatment options have been successful at containing many symptoms. These treatments include a range of medications, dietary changes and various therapies to prepare for the physical, emotional and occupational challenges that lie ahead.
Treatment of brain demyelination begins with a battery of tests to determine the extent of the problem and its potential cause, since MS and other brain demyelination problems have many symptoms that are the same as other conditions. Tests of nerve reflexes, physical ability, optical acumen and nervous function will be performed, as will a spinal tap and MRI scan of the brain and spine. Once the condition for the brain demyelination is identified, several courses could be taken.
Physical and psychological therapy will help the patient prepare for the long list of symptoms that could arise. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to deal with the changes, though several types of drugs have shown success with slowing the growth of the problem. These drugs are known as interferons, glatiramer acetate, mitoxantrone, fingolimod, methotrexate, azathioprine, intravenous immunoglobulin and even steroids. Different drugs may be successful at controlling muscular spasms and pain, while still other medications may counter fatigue or ease difficulties in the urinary tract. Each patient's regimen will depend on his or her particular symptoms.
Several conditions can cause brain demyelination. The most widely known is multiple sclerosis, but some infectious diseases of the encephalitis family can cause it too, such as HIV-born encephalitis, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. According to the University of California in San Diego, an injury suffered during intense radiation therapy also can result in white matter and myelin damage, as could some chemotherapy treatments and inflammation caused by a condition called optic neuritis.
The process of brain demyelination causes brain activity and its signal strength to wane. Inflammation is most often the cause of the myelin damage, which not only happens in the brain but also along the spinal column when the immune system mistakenly attacks the cells. The cause of the inflammation, however, is still unknown in the case of multiple sclerosis. Some evidence of genetic inheritance is overshadowed by cases in which inflammation was not a determining factor.
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