Multiple Sclerosis

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 European ancestry.

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 increasing limitations.

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:

  • Fatigue
  • Numbness
  • Walking (Gait), Balance, & Coordination Problems
  • Bladder Dysfunction
  • Bowel Dysfunction
  • Vision Problems
  • Dizziness and Vertigo
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Pain
  • Cognitive Dysfunction
  • Emotional Changes
  • Depression
  • Spasticity