Must-Know Facts About Multiple Sclerosis

Learn about the disease that affects one person in the United States every hour.

Three doctors examine the brain scan of an MS patient.

Updated on February 3, 2023.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease that disrupts the flow of information between the brain and the body. First symptoms largely appear in young people between the ages of 20 and 40 but can sometimes appear in children and older adults. The disease is unpredictable and can affect people in different ways; some may not have any symptoms, while others can experience symptoms that last for only short periods of time, followed by stretches of relief. Others affected may steadily worsen, leading to increased disability over time.    

Diagnosing multiple sclerosis

There is no single test to diagnose MS. Instead, healthcare providers (HCP) must look at medical histories, perform neurologic exams, and assess symptoms. Tests, such as a blood test, a spinal fluid analysis, and an MRI, can be administered to support the clinical diagnosis. A large part of diagnosing MS is ruling out other possible ailments, based on tests and symptoms.

For someone to be diagnosed with MS, they must typically show signs of damage in at least two areas of the central nervous system—like the brain, optic nerve, or spinal cord—that occurred at different points in time. No possibilities of other ailments can be present. 

A possible prognosis

Because the disease is unpredictable, it is difficult to determine the course of MS. For some, it’s diagnosed shortly after onset. For others, it may be years before an HCP is able to provide an answer. For most, the symptoms come and go, and are typically mild. In more severe cases, over time, people might face an inability to write, walk, and talk.  

Don't miss signs and symptoms

Early symptoms of MS include dizziness, clumsiness, tingling extremities, bladder control problems, and vision issues, like loss of vision, blurred or double vision, and pain in the eye area. As MS progresses, mental and physical fatigue, changes in mood, and loss of ability to concentrate and make decisions can occur.

Less common symptoms may include seizures, breathing problems, and hearing loss. It’s important to remember that signs and symptoms an individual may exhibit vary greatly, and they may also change or fluctuate over time.

Causes are complicated

Ultimately, the cause of MS is damage to neurons, nerve fibers, and myelin—the protective covering of nerve cells—in the brain and spinal cord. The reason for this damage isn’t fully understood, but many researchers believe MS is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the nerves. It may develop due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Treatment for MS is available

There is no cure for MS, but treatments have been developed to help reduce the number of attacks, alleviate symptoms, and slow the progression of the disease. Dealing with symptoms of MS is an ongoing process that begins at diagnosis and evolves throughout the course of someone’s life.

Certain medications can help both manage the condition and enhance the overall quality of day-to-day life. Rehabilitation is also available to people with MS and can improve and maintain function and mobility. 

Ways to live well with MS

In addition to managing symptoms with treatment, people with MS may consider making some lifestyle changes. Physical activity, like walking or jogging, helps keep muscles loose, promotes heart health, and can improve balance. Heat or warm weather can often make symptoms of MS worse, so keep your house cool, avoid taking hot showers and baths, and be mindful about exercising at a cooler time of day, such as in the morning or evening. 

There isn’t a specific eating plan for MS, but maintaining a well-rounded, nutritious diet can benefit those with a chronic illness. Focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins—and limiting salt, added sugar, and saturated fat—often goes a long way towards promoting good overall health.

Article sources open article sources

National Multiple Sclerosis Society. How MS is Diagnosed. Accessed February 3, 2023.
NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Multiple Sclerosis. Last reviewed January 23, 2023.
Thompson AJ, Banwell BL, Barkhof F, et al. Diagnosis of multiple sclerosis: 2017 revisions of the McDonald criteria. Lancet Neurol. 2018 Feb;17(2):162-173. 
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Medications. Accessed February 3, 2023.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Treating MS. Accessed February 3, 2023.
MedlinePlus. Multiple sclerosis – discharge. Reviewed July 26, 2022.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Diet and Nutrition. Accessed February 3, 2023.

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