Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is thought to be a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) in which the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues of the body. MS is characterized by the destruction of the myelin sheath surrounding neurons, resulting in the formation of plaques. In MS, the immune system attacks nerve fibers and the myelin sheath which causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause the nerves themselves to deteriorate or become permanently damaged. This causes nerve impulses to be slowed, or they may even be halted altogether. This leads to the development of symptoms of MS. MS is unpredictable and affects each patient differently – some individuals may be mildly affected, while others may lose their ability to write, speak or walk.
Risk factors
  • Age. Most commonly affects people between the ages of 15 and 60.
  • Sex. Women are more likely to develop the condition over men. 
  • Family history. If one parents or sibling has had MS, the risk of developing the disease is higher.
  • Certain infections. A variety of viruses have been linked to MS.
  • Race. White people, particularly those of Northern European descent, are at highest risk of developing MS. 
  • Climate. MS is far more common in countries with temperate climates, including Canada, the northern United States, New Zealand, southeastern Australia and Europe.
  • Smoking. Smokers who experience an initial event of symptoms that may signal MS are more likely than nonsmokers to develop a second event that confirms relapsing-remitting MS.
  • Blood tests help rule out other diseases with symptoms similar to MS. 
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) evaluation use a lumbar puncture or spinal tap to show immunological abnormalities that help in the diagnosis.
  • MRI can reveal areas of MS (lesions) on your brain and spinal cord. 
  • Evoked potential tests record the electrical signals produced by your nervous system in response to stimuli. Electrodes measure how quickly the information travels down your nerve pathways.
There's no cure for multiple sclerosis. However, treatments can help speed recovery from attacks, modify the course of the disease and manage symptoms.
  • About 350,000 Americans have MS.
  • Females tend to get MS about 3x as often as males
  • Having a parent with MS increases the risk of having MS to about 3-5% lifetime
  • Having an identical twin with MS increases the risk to about 30%. 
  • Of the 15,000 patient visits annually, only about 150 require hospitalization.
  • Between 2-5% of MS cases begin before age 16.
MS peeps

  • "Multiple Sclerosis." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 01 Apr. 2017. Web. 01 May 2017.
  • "Multiple Sclerosis." Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.
  • McNamara, Lindsay. "Multiple Sclerosis (MS)." What Is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)? | The Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center. Johns Hopkins Health System, 05 Oct. 2015. Web. 01 May 2017.
  • "Multiple Sclerosis in Adults." NYU Langone. NYU Hospitals Cente, n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.
  • "Vaccine Safety." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Jan. 2010. Web. 01 May 2017.


About 400,000 Americans, mostly young adults, live with MS. The disease affects nearly twice as many women as it does men. There is no cure for MS, but many people are able to lead active lives for years following diagnosis and have a normal life span. Multiple sclerosis can be very disabling and tiring, so many patients benefit from keeping a schedule and developing healthy lifestyle habits. Check out this infographic to learn more about the prevalence and types of MS, its symptoms, and available treatment options:
multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, types, & treatment


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