What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

October 12, 2023

Almost 1 million people in the U.S. are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the Cleveland Clinic. MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. For unknown reasons, the immune system attacks the central nervous system, which controls personality, emotion, language and movement. 

Symptoms of MS

MS can cause a range of symptoms. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the primary symptoms of MS are:

  • Vision loss
  • Trouble balancing
  • Pain
  • Paralysis
  • Numbness
  • Weakness 
  • Tremors
  • Bladder and bowel issues

Cases of MS vary from mild to severe. While some people only have minor symptoms, others may lose their ability to see, speak or walk. 

What are the risk factors?

Most researchers believe a combination of factors triggers MS. 

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society lists several possible risk factors for MS:

  • Infections — Previous exposure to certain bacteria or viruses, like Epstein-Barr virus, can put you at a higher risk of developing MS.
  • Geography — If you live far from the equator, you may have a higher risk of MS. Researchers suspect it’s because people in these regions get less vitamin D from sunlight. 
  • Genetics — If you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) with MS, you might be at greater risk. 
  • Smoking — Smoking raises your risk of MS. It also leads to more advanced disease in people with MS.
  • Obesity — Being overweight, particularly during childhood or adolescence, increases your risk.

How is MS treated?

There’s no cure for MS, but there are ways to manage it. Treatment may involve medications to lessen symptoms and prevent flare-ups. People with MS may also require rehabilitation to regain muscle strength and control. Lastly, counseling can help people cope with the psychological effects of MS, like loss of independence.

While there is no cure for MS, educating yourself about the disease can help you better support a friend or loved one dealing with it. For more information, visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society website.