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Scanning speech   
Abnormal speech characterized by staccato-like articulation that sounds clipped because the person unintentionally pauses between syllables and skips some of the sounds.

Hardening of tissue. In MS, sclerosis is the body’s replacement of lost myelin around CNS nerve cells with scar tissue.

A gap or blind spot in the visual field.

Secondary-progressive MS   
A clinical course of MS that initially is relapsing-remitting and then becomes progressive at a variable rate, possibly with an occasional relapse and minor remission.

Related to bodily sensations such as pain, smell, taste, temperature, vision, hearing, acceleration, and position in space.

The presence of sufficient bacteria in the blood to cause illness.

An objective physical problem or abnormality identified by the physician during the neurologic examination. Neurologic signs may differ significantly from the symptoms reported by the patient because they are identifiable only with specific tests and may cause no overt symptoms. Common neurologic signs in multiple sclerosis include altered eye movements and other changes in the appearance or function of the visual system; altered reflexes; weakness; spasticity; circumscribed sensory changes.

Somatosensory evoked potential  
A test that measures the brain’s electrical activity in response to repeated (mild) electrical stimulation of different parts of the body. Demyelination results in a slowing of response time.

Abnormal increase in muscle tone, manifested as a spring-like resistance to moving or being moved.

Speech/language pathologist   
Speech/language pathologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of speech and swallowing disorders. A person with MS may be referred to a speech/language pathologist for help with either one or both of these problems. Because of their expertise with speech and language difficulties, these specialists also provide cognitive remediation for individuals with cognitive impairment.

A circular band of muscle fibers that tightens or closes a natural opening of the body, such as the external anal sphincter, which closes the anus, and the internal and external urinary sphincters, which close the urinary canal.

A surgical enlargement of the urinary sphincter in a male whose spasticity is so severe that he cannot empty his bladder. Once the surgery is performed, the man loses urinary control and must wear an external, condom catheter to collect the urine. This procedure is seldom required in MS. It is performed only on males because urinary drainage problems in females might lead to skin breakdown.

Spinal tap   
See Lumbar puncture.

An instrument used to assess lung function; it measures the volume and flow rate of inhaled and exhaled air.

Spontaneous voiding   
See Incontinence.

Stance ataxia   
An inability to stand upright due to disturbed coordination of the involved muscles, which results in swaying and a tendency to fall in one or another direction.

See ACTH; Corticosteroid; Glucocorticoid hormones.

Suppressor T-lymphocytes   
White blood cells that act as part of the immune system and may be in short supply during an MS exacerbation.

Straight catheter
A straight but flexible, hollow plastic tube of variable length and diameter, which can be inserted through the urinary opening into the bladder to drain excess urine that cannot be excreted normally. The straights catheter is the type used for intermittent self-catheterization (ISC). See Intermittent self-catheterization.

A subjectively perceived problem or complaint reported by the patient. In multiple sclerosis, common symptoms include visual problems, fatigue, sensory changes, weakness or paralysis of limbs, tremor, lack of coordination, poor balance, bladder or bowel changes, and psychological changes.

A lymphocyte (white blood cell) that develops in the bone marrow, matures in the thymus, and works as part of the immune system in the body.

Tandem gait   
A test of balance and coordination that involves alternately placing the heel of one foot directly against the toes of the other foot.

An irreversible surgical procedure performed to cut severely contracted tendons attached to muscles that do not respond to any other type of spasticity control and are causing intractable pain and skin complications related to lack of physical movement.

A form of tremor, resulting from demyelination in the cerebellum, that manifests itself primarily in the head and neck.

Tonic seizure   
An intense spasm that lasts for a few minutes and affects one or both limbs on one side of the body. Like other types of paroxysmal symptoms in MS, these spasms occur abruptly and fairly frequently in those individuals who have them, and are similar from one brief episode to the next. The attacks may be triggered by movement or occur spontaneously. See Paroxysmal symptom.

Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS)   
TENS is a nonaddictive and noninvasive method of pain control that applies electric impulses to nerve endings via electrodes that are attached to a stimulator by flexible wires and placed on the skin. The electric impulses block the transmission of pain signals to the brain.

Transurethral resection   
A procedure to remove excess thickened tissue at the point of connection between the bladder and the urethra. This thickened tissue, which occasionally develops with the prolonged use of a Foley catheter, obstructs the flow of urine when the catheter is removed. This procedure is quite uncommon and is done mostly in males.

Transverse myelitis   
An acute attack of inflammatory demyelination that involves both sides of the spinal cord. The spinal cord loses its ability to transmit nerve impulses up and down. Paralysis and numbness are experienced in the legs and trunk below the level of the inflammation.

Trigeminal neuralgia   
Lightning-like, acute pain in the face caused by demyelination of nerve fibers at the site where the sensory (trigeminal) nerve root for that part of the face enters the brainstem.

Also known as fraternal twins, two babies that come from separate, simultaneously-fertilized eggs. If one dizygotic twin develops MS, the other has the same genetic risk for MS (approximately 2-5/100 as any other sibling or first-degree relative.

Also known as identical twins, two babies that come from single fertilized egg and share identical genetic makeup. If one monozygotic twin develops MS, the other has a 30/100 risk of developing the disease, indicating that factors other than genetic makeup contribute to the etiology of MS.

Duct or tube that drains the urinary bladder.

Urinary frequency   
Feeling the urge to urinate even when urination has occurred very recently.

Urinary hesitancy   
The inability to void urine spontaneously even though the urge to do so is present.

Urinary incontinence   
See Incontinence.

Urinary sphincter   
The muscle closing the urethra, which in a state of flaccid paralysis causes urinary incontinence and in a state of spastic paralysis results in an inability to urinate.

Urinary urgency   
The inability to postpone urination once the need to void has been felt.

Urine culture and sensitivity (C & S)  
A diagnostic procedure to test for urinary tract infection and identify the appropriate treatment. Bacteria from a mid-stream urine sample is allowed to grow for three days in a laboratory medium and then tested for sensitivity to a variety of antibiotics.

A physician who specializes in the branch of medicine (urology) concerned with the anatomy, physiology, disorders, and care of the male and female urinary tract, as well as the male genital tract.

A medical specialty that deals with disturbances of the urinary (male and female) and reproductive (male) organs.

A dizzying sensation of the environment spinning, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Vibration sense   
The ability to feel vibrations against various parts of the body. Vibration sense is tested (with a tuning fork) as part of the sensory portion of the neurologic exam.

A radiographic study of a person’s swallowing mechanism that is recorded on videotape. Videofluoro-scopy shows the physiology of the pharynx, the location of the swallowing difficulty, and confirms whether or not food particles or fluids are being aspirated into the airway.

Visual acuity   
Clarity of vision. Acuity is measured as a fraction of normal vision. 20/20 vision indicates an eye that sees at 20 feet what a normal eye should see at 20 feet; 20/400 vision indicates an eye that sees at 20 feet what a normal eye sees at 400 feet.

Visual evoked potential   
A test in which the brain’s electrical activity in response to visual stimuli (e.g., a flashing checkerboard) is recorded by an electroencephalograph and analyzed by computer. Demyelination results in a slowing of response time. Because this test is able to confirm the presence of a suspected brain lesion (area of demyelination) as well as identify the presence of an unsuspected lesion that has produced no symptoms, it is extremely useful in diagnosing MS. VEPs are abnormal in approximately 90 percent of people with MS.

Vocational rehabilitation (VR)   
Vocational rehabilitation is a program of services designed to enable people with disabilities to become or remain employed. Originally mandated by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, VR programs are carried out by individually created state agencies. In order to be eligible for VR, a person must have a physical or mental disability that results in a substantial handicap to employment. VR programs typically involve evaluation of the disability and need for adaptive equipment or mobility aids, vocational guidance, training, job-placement, and follow-up.

White matter   
The part of the brain that contains myelinated nerve fibers and appears white, in contrast to the cortex of the brain, which contains nerve cell bodies and appears gray.

Reprinted with permission from Rosalind C. Kalb (ed.), Multiple Sclerosis: The Questions You Have—The Answers You Need, 3rd Edition. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, Inc., 2004

  Last updated October 2004