Multiple Sclerosis – Patient Education Overview

Multiple sclerosis affects 350,000 people in the U.S. Though the condition can appear at any age, it is most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 20-50 years. MS appears twice as often in Caucasians, and females are affected earlier in life twice as frequently as males. Read more in our patient education guide.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease whereby the central nervous system components break down and degenerate. Scar tissue can form with resulting plaque in the spinal cord and brain. Myelin, a substance that covers the nerves and supports nerve health, is responsible for impulse conduction. In MS patients, myelin disintegrates through inflammation causing electrical impulses to slow down.

As the condition progresses with nerve damage, various normal functions can be compromised. These include:

  • Vision disturbance – involves blurred or patchy vision or color changes due to optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve)
  • Speech difficulties
  • Problems walking
  • Impaired memory
  • Difficulty writing
  • Coordination and balance due to limb weakness
  • Muscle spasm, tiredness, numbness

Half of patients with MS experience:

  • Uncontrollable mood swings (laughing and crying)
  • Depression
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • Attention deficit
  • Paranoia
  • Memory loss

Though the cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, it is highly suspected that a viral infection changes cells of the immune system so that the body, thinking that myelin is an invader, attacks and destroys it. This attack is known as autoimmunity.

There are several types of multiple sclerosis based upon the timing of symptoms.

Type Primary-Progressive MS Relapsing-Remitting MS Secondary-Progressive MS
Rate Affects 10%-20% of individuals Most common type (65%-80%) Experienced by half of those with relapsing-remitting MS within ten years
Progression There is a constant deterioration in physical abilities from the start of the initial attacks Cycle of attacks, remission and relapse. One experiences attacks, after which there is symptom decline or absence until another episode occurs.

A person can be in remission for many years.

A continuous decline occurs in functions with intermittent attacks.


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