What is MS?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.
The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person varies. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease.
There are four main types of MS including Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS), Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS), Primary Progressive MS, and Progressive Relapsing MS.
Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS): Initially, 80-85% of patients are diagnosed with this type of MS which is characterized by periods that alternate between remission (times when symptoms have partially or completely gone away) and relapse (also called attacks or flares) when symptoms may worsen or new ones appear.
Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS): Patients are diagnosed with this type of MS when symptoms and disability steadily worsen. With SPMS periods of relapse and minor remission may or may not occur and will disappear over time. People who develop SPMS will have previously experienced a period of RRMS.
Primary Progressive MS (PPMS): Roughly 10% of patients are diagnosed with Primary Progressive MS in which the patients experience worsening symptoms in a steady fashion without any flares.
Progressive relapsing MS (PRMS): The least common form of MS and occurs in approximately 5% of people with MS. PRMS is characterized by a steady worsening of the disease. Patients may experience acute periods of relapse from which they may or may not recover.
Symptoms of MS may include, but are not limited to:
- Numbness of the face, body, or extremities (arms and legs)
- Muscle weakness
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Thinking and memory problems
- Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
- Problems with bowel and bladder function
- Slurred speech
What causes MS?
The cause of MS is still unknown. Scientists believe the disease is triggered by an unidentified environmental or genetic factor in a person who is genetically predisposed to respond. These factors may increase your risk of developing multiple sclerosis:
- Age. MS can occur at any age, but most commonly affects people between the ages of 15 and 60
- Gender. Women are about twice as likely as men are to develop MS
- Family history. If one of your parents or siblings has had MS, you are at higher risk of developing the disease
- Certain infections. A variety of viruses have been linked to MS, including Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis
- Race. White people, particularly those of Northern European descent, are at highest risk of developing MS. People of Asian, African or Native American descent have the lowest risk
- Climate. MS is far more common in countries with temperate climates, including Canada, the northern United States, New Zealand, southeastern Australia and Europe
- Certain autoimmune diseases. You have a slightly higher risk of developing MS if you have thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease
- 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
How is MS treated?
While there is no cure for MS, there are various medications available to help manage your condition. Medications are used in multiple sclerosis (MS) to modify the disease course, treat relapses — also called attacks or exacerbations — and manage symptoms. Along with the other essential components of comprehensive MS care, these medications help people manage their MS and enhance their comfort and quality of life.
MS medications can be injected under the skin or into the muscle, infused into a vein, or taken by mouth. Below are some of the different types of medications available to treat MS.
- Interferons may help to lower the number of exacerbations and may slow the progression of physical disability
- Monoclonal antibodies may help alter the immune response
- Oral medications may help delay the progression of physical disability and decrease the number of exacerbations
For more information about MS, contact the following resources:
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society
- Multiple Sclerosis Foundation
- Multiple Sclerosis Association America