Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks
the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal
cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the
limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. These symptoms
may be permanent or may come and go. The progress, severity, and specific
symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.
Approximately 400,000 Americans have MS, and every week about 200 people
are diagnosed. World-wide, MS affects about 2.5 million people. Because
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not require
U.S. physicians to report new cases, and because symptoms can be completely
invisible, the numbers can only be estimated.
Today, new treatments and advances in research are giving new hope to
people affected by the disease.
Who Can Get MS
Anyone may develop MS but there are some patterns. More than twice as many
women as men have MS. Studies suggest that genetic factors make certain
individuals more susceptible than others, but there is no evidence that
MS is directly inherited. MS occurs in most ethnic groups, including African-Americans,
Asians and Hispanics/Latinos, but is more common in Caucasians of northern
Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, although individuals
as young as 2 and as old as 75 have developed it. MS is not considered
a fatal disease as the vast majority of people with it live a normal life-span.
But they may struggle to live as productively as they desire, often facing
The Causes of MS
Multiple sclerosis is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. This means
the immune system incorrectly attacks the person's healthy tissue.
The body’s own defense system attacks myelin, the fatty substance
that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system.
The nerve fibers themselves can also be damaged. The damaged myelin forms
scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name. When any part
of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses
traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted,
producing the variety of symptoms that can occur.
Most people with MS learn to cope with the disease and continue to lead
satisfying, productive lives.
Common Symptoms of MS
In multiple sclerosis, damage to the myelin in the central nervous system
(CNS), and to the nerve fibers themselves, interferes with the transmission
of nerve signals between the brain and spinal cord and other parts of
the body. This disruption of nerve signals produces the primary symptoms
of MS, which vary depending on where the damage has occurred.
Over the course of the disease, some symptoms will come and go, while
others may be more lasting. Some of the most common symptoms of MS include:
- Walking (Gait), Balance, & Coordination Problems
- Bladder Dysfunction
- Bowel Dysfunction
- Vision Problems
- Dizziness and Vertigo
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Cognitive Dysfunction
- Emotional Changes