Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (commonly called MS) is a neurological disease, in which there is slow, progressive nerve damage. The cause of this nerve damage is unknown, but may be related to an overactive immune system. This condition is more common in women than men, and most people are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 60. Because all of the nerves in the body can be affected, the symptoms of MS also vary from person to person. The most common symptoms are vision problems, strange sensations in the arms and legs and muscle weakness. MS is diagnosed by a specialist neurologist and by having magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The symptoms of MS can be relapsing (symptoms come and go, with symptom-free periods), or can progressively worsen without improvement. There are treatments which can help with the symptoms and slow down the progression of the nerve damage, but no treatments which can cure MS.
Women are affected more often and, on average, at a younger age than men. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 60, although this condition can affect people of any age. People with a family member with multiple sclerosis may be more likely to develop this condition. The cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, but many specialists think that an overactive immune system, which attacks the body's own nerve cells, might be part of the cause.
MS can affect any nerves in the body, so the symptoms can be very different from person to person. More common symptoms include a loss of vision, a loss of feeling in the arms or legs, weakness in the arms or legs, dizziness and imbalance. Some people develop bowel and bladder problems. Additionally, a lot of people with MS find that they feel tired all the time. People with MS may experience cycles of relapse (in which their symptoms come and go, with symptom-free periods), or can progressively worsen without improvement. Warm weather or warm baths may make symptoms worse.
This condition is diagnosed by a specialist neurologist based on the symptoms, the physical examination and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Other tests might include testing individual nerve function, blood tests and testing the cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that surrounds the nerves and the brain.
Treatment mostly consists of weakening the immune system. There are many medications that can do this for people with MS. One of the most widely used medications is called interferon. These medications can help to reduce the severity of the episodes and prolong the period between attacks. However, there is currently no cure available for MS. Physical exercise and physiotherapy can be helpful to maintain strength and balance, and regain strength after an episode.