Its Early Years
Back in the 19th century, people would only listen to and believe hearsay, superstition and the wisdom of the elderly or caregivers. Medications were never tested, and physicians mainly depended on their observing skills for a definite diagnosis.
However, upon looking at their journals, it could be derived that they were indeed correct in diagnosing such cases as multiple sclerosis because the information written certainly leads to such disease.
Once the scientific method took hold in medicine, MS was among the first diseases to be described scientifically. The 19th-century doctors did not understand what they saw and recorded, but drawings from autopsies done as early as 1838 clearly show what we today recognize as MS.
In the 19th century, specifically 1838, there were already drawings of patients who had multiple sclerosis. Although the physicians back then did not have a full understanding of multiple sclerosis and what the disease could lead to, the drawings clearly indicate what is today known as multiple sclerosis.
Its detailed discovery
Jean-Martin Charcot is called the “father of neurology” because of his many contributions to the world of neurology. As a professor of neurology in 1868 at the University of Paris, he discovered multiple sclerosis.
It has been recorded that Professor Charcot recorded his observations of a woman who had tremors which were very new to him. Aside from the tremors, he also saw other neurological symptoms such as abnormal movements of the eyes and blurring of vision. Since the medicine back then was far from being advanced, his patient died. During the autopsy, he found out that her brain had plaques or scars that doctors now know are characteristic of multiple sclerosis.
Dr. Charcot wrote a complete description of the disease and the changes in the brain which accompany it. However, he was baffled by its cause and frustrated by its resistance to all of his treatments. They included electrical stimulation and strychnine-because this poison is a nerve stimulant. He also tried injections of gold and silver, as they were somewhat helpful in the other major nerve disorder common at that time-syphilis.
By the late 1800’s, the leading physicians of the world were beginning to understand that MS is a specific disease. In 1873, Dr. Moxon, an English doctor, understood and in the United States, Dr. Edward Seguin in 1878 realized MS is a specific disease also. By the end of the century, they knew that the disease is more common in women than men, that it is not directly inherited, and that it can produce many different neurological symptoms.
1940s: The coming of the National MS Society…
World War II focused the energies of the scientific world on new technologies. New methods and new understandings emerged from wartime research efforts in many areas. In 1943, for example, the actual composition of myelin was determined. Then when peace came, one of the most important catalysts in the fight against NIS was created. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society was founded in 1946.
Sylvia Lawry, an extraordinary ordinary citizen whose brother suffered from the disease, placed a classified advertisement in The New York Times asking to hear from anyone who had recovered from MS. But all the letters she received came from others who also sought help and hope.
Instead of being discouraged, Ms. Lawry mobilized a group of friends and advisors, including some who had answered her ad. From this, the National MS Society was formed to promote contacts among neurologists around the country who treated MS and to raise money to fund a search for answers.
Reprinted from Summer 1996 issue of Inside MS published by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS)