Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system. It is a chronic condition that can be disabling.
There are several types of MS: Relapsing-remitting MS
—Symptoms suddenly reappear periodically. They last for a few weeks or months, then go back into remission (a period with no symptoms). Symptoms may get worse with each occurrence.
Primary progressive MS
—Symptoms gradually worsen after symptoms first appear. Relapses and remissions usually do not occur.
Secondary progressive MS
—After years of relapses and remissions, symptoms suddenly begin to progressively worsen.
Progressive relapsing MS
—Symptoms gradually worsen after symptoms first appear. One or more relapses may also occur.
Nerve Fiber (Neuron)
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The immune system normally attacks viruses or bacteria that should not be in the body. With MS, a problem with the immune system causes it to attack healthy nerves. In particular, MS attacks the nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord, and the nerves of the eye. The exact cause of these immune problems is unknown.
The following may contribute to the development of MS: Viral or other infectionGenetic factors (heredity)Environmental factorsBreaking down of parts of the nervous system
MS is more common in women and in people aged 15-50 years old. Other factors may increase your chance of MS include: Exposure to certain virusesFamily members who have MS or other autoimmune disordersBeing of Northern European descentGrowing up in a colder climate, as opposed to a tropical climateHaving certain immune system genesHaving inflammation of the optic nerve
low vitamin D
Symptoms may range from mild to severe and may include: Numbness or tingling in the face or limbs
Impaired vision in one or both eyes, including:
Blurred visionDouble visionLoss of visionEye painFatigueLightheadednessMuscle stiffnessMuscle spasmsMuscle weaknessIncoordination or fallingTrouble walking or maintaining balanceWeakness in one or more limbs
Bladder problems including:
Bowel problems, including
constipationSexual dysfunctionSlurred speechDifficulty swallowingForgetfulness, memory loss, and confusionDifficulty concentrating or solving problemsDepression
Symptoms may worsen with:
Hot weatherHot baths or showersFeverOverexertion—intense physical activityInfection
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include: MRI
to take pictures of internal structures around the brain and spinal cord
Sensory evoked potentials to record the electrical responses evoked after a sensory stimulusVisual evoked potential test
to look for problems in the brain that affect vision
to check the fluid around the brain and spinal cord, which may rule out other diseases
Blood tests to rule out other diseases that may mimic MS
There is no cure for MS, you can manage the disease with medication, lifestyle changes, and counseling. Treatment will help relieve symptoms, prevent relapses, delay disability, and slow disease progression. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Medications include: Interferon betasImmunomodulatorsImmunosuppressivesMuscle relaxantsCorticosteroidsPotassium channel blockersBotox injections
Other medications may also be given to treat symptoms, such as: FatigueDepressionPainBladder or bowel problems
Therapies and changes may include: Regular moderate exercise with your doctor's permission—swimming may be especially beneficialPhysical therapy to help maintain muscle strength and tone, dexterity, and walking abilityMassage
High-fiber diet to prevent
—smoking may worsen MS, causing the condition to progress to a more severe form
Individual or group
will help you learn coping strategies for physical symptoms and emotional stress.
If you are diagnosed with MS, follow your doctor's
Some forms of MS have periods remissions that alternate with relapses. Take these steps to help you avoid relapses and worsening of symptoms: Adhere to the treatment plan you worked out with your doctorGet adequate restAvoid hot weatherStay in air-conditioned places during periods of hot weatherAvoid hot showers or bathsAvoid overexertion and stress
Avoid infection by:
Using proper hygieneStaying away from people who are sickThoroughly cooking foodPracticing safe sex
There are no current guidelines to prevent MS.
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Last reviewed September 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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