Who gave the first complete description of multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Louis Rosner

Around the world isolated reports of multiple sclerosis (MS) were cropping up, but it is the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot who is credited with bringing the first clearcut description of multiple sclerosis to the attention of the medical world. Charcot, the foremost authority on paralysis in Europe, attracted doctors from all parts of the continent to his dramatic lectures and presentations. Among his prominent students was the young Sigmund Freud, who traveled from Vienna to observe Charcot's treatment of patients with "hysterical" paralysis - those paralyzed by emotional, not physical, problems. Charcot would actually get these patients to walk again by hypnotizing them, tricking them, or frightening them horribly. Freud, who became convinced that there were better ways to treat hysteria, ultimately went off on his own and pioneered psychoanalysis.

Still, what Charcot might have lacked in compassion he made up for in medical genius. In 1868 he identified a new disease that had previously been confused with paralysis. He was able to make his first observations of what would soon become known as multiple sclerosis right under his nose - his own housekeeper had the disease.

On March 14, 1868, Charcot presented the clinical aspects of three cases to the French Biological Society. Soon after, he presented his own illustrations of the disease - sketches that would appear in neurology textbooks for many generations to come. Most important, though, he was the first to correlate the "brown patches" discovered by Cruveilhier and Carswell with the symptoms of the disease he called sclerose en plaques, translated as "hardening in patches."

Because of Charcot's reputation and prominence, word of this new disease spread quickly, and the study of neurology would never be quite the same. Unfortunately, he only identified three symptoms of the disease - the ones he observed in his maid - and for years this led to very limited diagnosis around the world. In fact, until the 1950s the Japanese were thought to be immune to MS. They weren't immune at all; they had symptoms other than those in Charcot's literature, which was still respected as medical gospel.

Multiple Sclerosis

More About this Book

Multiple Sclerosis

Too often, multiple sclerosis is thought of only as "the crippler of young adults." But in fact, 75 percent of all people with MS will never need a wheelchair. In Multiple Sclerosis, Dr. Louis J....

Continue Learning about Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Avoiding Burnout When Caring for Someone With Progressive MS
Avoiding Burnout When Caring for Someone With Progressive MS
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disorder that damages healthy nerve tissue, particularly myelin, the fatty substance which functions as a protective cove...
Read More
What is the course of multiple sclerosis (MS)?
Kulreet Chaudhary, MDKulreet Chaudhary, MD
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) can be varied, so it's difficult to diagnose; but early trea...
More Answers
Best (and Worst) Foods for Multiple Sclerosis
Best (and Worst) Foods for Multiple SclerosisBest (and Worst) Foods for Multiple SclerosisBest (and Worst) Foods for Multiple SclerosisBest (and Worst) Foods for Multiple Sclerosis
Restore energy and help ease symptoms with these eats.
Start Slideshow
How Can I Prevent Cognitive Impairment with Multiple Sclerosis?
How Can I Prevent Cognitive Impairment with Multiple Sclerosis?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.