What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central
nervous system. With multiple sclerosis, the brain has difficulty getting messages to the rest of
the body. Though we know relatively little about multiple sclerosis, research
into its causes and possible treatments is rapidly developing.
believe that MS causes the body's immune system to attack myelin, which is an
insulating coating around nerve cells.
myelin erodes, communication between nerve cells in the central nervous system is
disrupted. When this happens, some parts of the body do not receive
instructions from the central nervous system, which controls everything the
disease can cause varying symptoms that appear with a wide range of severity,
from mild discomfort to complete disability.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
sclerosis may appear in several forms. The types of MS include:
Relapsing-remitting: This form of multiple
sclerosis comes and goes over time. Symptoms can be severe for a time but then
disappear. About 85 percent of multiple sclerosis patients develop onset of the
disease in this manner (Murray, T., et al., 2013).
Secondary-progressive: After the initial attack, the
disease may begin to progress in a more deliberate way. In this type of MS,
symptoms do not subside. Before new therapies were created, about 50 percent of
people with multiple sclerosis entered a progressive stage. However, the
effectiveness of the new therapies has not been fully evaluated (Murray T., et
Primary-progressive: People who develop this form
of the disease generally do so later in life. They decline slowly, without many
ups and downs.
Progressive relapsing: In this form of multiple
sclerosis, symptoms initially progress slowly but eventually worsen over time.
sclerosis is very unpredictable. Some people have an initial attack and don't
progress. Sometimes, in older people, progression will stop altogether. According
to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, it is unclear why the disease
affects people in such a variety of ways.
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
knows what causes multiple sclerosis. However, scientific evidence has led to
four main theories about what triggers it.
The Immune System
It is commonly believed that the immune system plays a role in multiple
sclerosis by attacking myelin. However, researchers don’t yet know if the body
does this naturally or if other factors cause the attacks.
The Environment and Nutrition
living near the equator have a lower incidence of multiple sclerosis. Some
believe that extra sunlight causes the body to make more vitamin D and reduces
the risk of MS. In the United States, the incidence of multiple sclerosis in
North Dakota is twice that of Florida, according to researchers at the University
are also investigating whether diets high in saturated fat, or low in fish oils
and vitamin D, are linked to the disease.
Incidence of multiple sclerosis among primary family members suggests genetics
may play a role in MS. Although the risk of developing MS among the general
population is about 0.15 percent, it can be as high as four percent among people
who have a brother, sister, mother, or father with the disease (University of California, San
Researchers are also exploring whether viral or bacterial infections or other
pathogens trigger the immune response that is believed to lead to multiple
Who Is at Risk for Multiple Sclerosis?
sclerosis most commonly affects people between the ages of 20 and 40, according
to the Mayo Clinic. However, people can develop the disease at any age.
have a higher risk of developing the disease than men do.
there is a hereditary link to MS, it is not the only factor. Research shows
that among twins, a person has only a 30 percent chance of developing the
disease if his or her twin has it, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
sclerosis symptoms vary greatly from patient to patient. Common symptoms
or tingling in the limbs
of bladder and bowel control
thinking or concentration
How Is Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed?
is no definitive diagnosis for multiple sclerosis. Doctors determine whether
you have it by ruling out other illnesses. They do this by evaluating your
symptoms, performing a clinical exam, and ordering tests.
that may point to a possible multiple sclerosis diagnosis include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRIs allow doctors to identify
lesions in your brain or spinal cord, which could indicate myelin loss.
- Spinal tap: The fluid in your spine can
offer clues about whether your body is experiencing an immune response. Spinal
fluid abnormalities are often present in a diagnosis of the disease.
- Evoked potential test: This test uses visual cues or
electrical impulses to determine how efficiently your brain responds to
- Blood tests: Blood tests may rule out other
How Is Multiple Sclerosis Treated?
multiple sclerosis has no cure, it can be treated in a variety of ways. New
research has also led to new therapies.
medications exist to treat multiple sclerosis for the long term, including new
classes of drugs that manipulate the body's immune response. Most are taken
intravenously or by injection, but a few come in pill form.
flare-ups, corticosteroids can offer relief.
over-the-counter and prescription medications can help manage the various symptoms
associated with multiple sclerosis. These include medications for pain,
anxiety, muscle spasms, infections, and bladder and bowel problems.
may be performed to help control severe tremors and muscle spasms.
variety of vitamins, herbs, and nutritional supplements may offer symptom relief.
Always talk to your doctor before beginning one of these regimens.
acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, and aquatic exercise are other alternative home
therapies that may alleviate symptoms.
also known as plasma exchange, can offer temporary relief during flare-ups.
speech, and occupational therapies can help someone suffering from multiple
sclerosis better perform daily tasks.
What Is the Outlook for Multiple Sclerosis?
sclerosis is a chronic condition. It progresses at varying rates. Although
multiple sclerosis can lead to total disability, most people are able to manage
symptoms with some degree of success. Most patients live 30 years or more after
their diagnosis, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.