What is MS?
Multiple sclerosis interrupts the flow of information between the brain and the body and it stops people from moving. Every hour in the United States, someone is newly diagnosed with MS, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.
Who gets MS?
Anyone may develop MS but there are some patterns. 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. It occurs more commonly among people with northern European ancestry, but people of African, Asian, and Hispanic backgrounds are not immune.
What causes MS?
MS symptoms result when an immune-system attack affects myelin, the protective insulation surrounding nerve fibers of the central nervous system. Myelin is destroyed and replaced by scars of hardened “sclerotic” tissue. Some underlying nerve fibers are permanently severed. The damage appears in multiple places within the central nervous system.
Myelin is often compared to insulating material around an electrical wire; loss of myelin interferes with the transmission of nerve signals.
What are the typical symptoms of MS?
Symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from person to person, and from time to time. For example: One person may experience abnormal fatigue and episodes of numbness and tingling. Another could have loss of balance and muscle coordination making walking difficult. Still another could have slurred speech, tremors, stiffness, and bladder problems.
Sometimes major symptoms disappear completely, and the person regains lost functions. In severe MS, people have symptoms on a permanent basis including partial or complete paralysis, and difficulties with vision, cognition, speech, and elimination.
Is it easily diagnosed?
No. In early MS, symptoms that might indicate any number of possible disorders come and go. Some people have symptoms that are very difficult for physicians to interpret, and these people must “wait and see.” While no single laboratory test is yet available to prove or rule out MS, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a great help in reaching a definitive diagnosis.
Is there a cure?
While a cure for MS has not yet been discovered, advances in research have yielded treatments. Early and ongoing treatment with an FDA- approved therapy could make a difference for you if you have MS. Learn about your options by talking to your health care professional and contacting the National MS Society.
For people newly diagnosed
If you or someone close to you has recently been given a diagnosis of MS, you probably have a lot of questions and concerns. We can help. Click here for information and support.
Visit the National web site for more information about MS.