Facts about multiple sclerosis

7 Surprising Facts About Multiple Sclerosis

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    Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common nervous system disease and a common cause of disability in young adults. It’s also a surprising disease. Did you know most people with MS live as long as people without MS? Or, that most people with MS lead active and productive lives? If you want to know more about MS disease, start with these seven facts—they might surprise you.

    Revealing Clues and Truths About Multiple Sclerosis https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1494×999%2B0%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Fa3%2Fb3%2F735ad07e412ea32fb7aca6a7909c%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-man-with-coffee.jpg

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    MS is an autoimmune disease. That means your body’s defense system—your immune system— attacks your nervous system by mistake. Your immune system normally protects you from foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria. With MS, your immune system launches attacks against the protective covering of nerve fibers in your brain and spinal cord. These attacks cause hard scars (sclerosis) that interfere with nerve signals.

    1. Your own body causes MS. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1494×999%2B5%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2F9e%2F9d%2F095b4c754da7889a3e1553c4d230%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-woman-throws-a-punch.jpg

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    There is still no cure for MS, but there are good treatment options. Today’s drugs include ones that can reduce MS attacks and the damage they cause. MS medicines are disease-modifying drugs. Until 2010, people with MS could only get this type of drug by injection. Now there are oral medications to choose from. There are also drugs that can treat the symptoms of MS, like muscle spasms, weakness, and fatigue.

    2. MS is treatable. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1491×997%2B0%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Ff6%2Fc9%2F937ceb1249cbb5ba880c7b0f4c63%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-patient-and-doctor.jpg

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    Here’s one of the unsolved mysteries of MS: The farther from the equator you live, the more likely you are to have MS. If you live in a warm sunny area near the equator, your risk of developing MS is lower than if you live in the United States or Canada. If you were born in a warm and sunny part of the world and you move to a colder climate as a child, your risk of MS goes up. Anyone can get MS, but it is most common in people of Northern European ancestry.

    3. MS is more common in cold climates. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1494×999%2B5%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Fb4%2F82%2Fb7218b9642e1bea7e82e57d877c5%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-running-in-the-snow.jpg

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    Low levels of vitamin D may be a risk factor for MS. One reason MS is less common in sunny parts of the world may be vitamin D. Your body produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun. So, people who live in sunny climates usually make more vitamin D. This vitamin may help regulate the immune system. If you have MS, taking vitamin D may reduce MS symptoms and attacks. One recent study found vitamin D may help repair the protective covering (myelin) of nerves that MS damages.

    4. Vitamin D may lower your risk of MS. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1500×1003%2B0%2B49/resize/580×388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2F1a%2F80%2Ffac9038b4151bbfd1eef0eda36ce%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-woman-in-the-sun.jpg

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    In the 1950s, women with MS were often advised to not get pregnant. Doctors thought pregnancy made MS worse. Now, though, many studies show it usually makes MS better. Pregnancy is like having a foreign invader inside your body. To protect the little invader, the body naturally shuts down some of its immune response. In turn, MS symptoms may improve. Also, women with MS are not more likely than other women to have pregnancy complications.

    5. MS gets better during pregnancy. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1496×1001%2B3%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Fe7%2Fa4%2F3647a66d4418b7994e09949cf7f7%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-pregnant-woman.jpg

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    Most people associate symptoms like weakness, numbness, or stiffness with MS. However, people with MS often say the most bothersome symptoms are the mental ones. These symptoms—called cognitive changes— affect up to three-fourths of people with MS. Cognitive changes make it harder to think clearly and quickly. In fact, cognitive symptoms— not physical ones— are often the reason people with MS stop working.

    6. MS may affect more mind than body. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1494×999%2B0%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2F9c%2Fb9%2F555bf15b4e58a77f8d50fa473d9b%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-man-on-laptop.jpg

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    You may have heard that MS genes pass down through families. That’s true. But, you only inherit the risk for the disease, not the disease itself. Something needs to trigger these genes to cause MS. Only 15% of people with MS have a family history of the disease. The identical twin of a person with MS has just a one-in-three chance of having MS, even though the two have the exact same genes. Finding the triggers for MS genes is a big area of research and may help with preventing MS disease or lessening its effects.

    7. MS is not an inherited disease. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1494×999%2B5%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Fe3%2Fe9%2F460bdc384e25995950b65d9d7afd%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-family.jpg

10 Must-Know Facts About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a disease of the nervous system that can affect the brain and spinal cord. MS symptoms are caused by the progressive loss of myelin, the outer protective lining of nerve fibers. Myelin is like the coating around an electrical wire: Without enough myelin, nerve signals have trouble passing through the nerves. The full cause of MS is not completely understood, but it’s partly due to the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking myelin cells. That’s why multiple sclerosis is called an autoimmune disease. Still, there is more to learn about this condition, which underscores the importance of raising awareness around the globe. And every year on the last Wednesday in May, we can do just that when we observe World MS Day.

Anyone Can Get MS

In the United States, MS affects approximately 350,000 people. More than two million people worldwide are affected by MS. “The incidence varies widely,” said John Wilson, MD, a neurologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Maywood, Ill., part of the Loyola University Health System. “It is a disease that is more common the farther north from the equator one gets. It tends to be more common in women than men and to occur in people between 20 and 40, but people of any age can get it.” According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, about 200 people are diagnosed with MS every week.

MS Causes and Triggers Vary

Doctors think MS is caused by a combination of factors. “Part of the cause is genetic, but there must also be some environmental factors that trigger the disease,” said Matthew McCoyd, MD, a neurologist, assistant professor, and associate neurology residency program director with the Loyola University Health System in Illinois. “Possible MS triggers may include things like decreased sunlight, vitamin D deficiency, or viral infections.” The genes you’re born with may increase your risk for MS, but there is no evidence that MS is directly passed down through families.

Some MS Symptoms Are Common, Some Are Not

“Commonly, multiple sclerosis can cause problems with vision, including sudden loss of vision in one eye, or, rarely, both eyes; double vision; blurred vision; severe dizziness; imbalance; numbness; weakness; muscle spasms; tremors; speech problems; depression; and facial pain,” said Dr. Wilson. “While facial pain is a symptom of MS, headache is almost never caused by MS.” Other MS symptoms include fatigue and mental fogginess or confusion. The most important thing to know about these symptoms is that they come and go unpredictably.

MS Can Flare and Relapse

MS flares may be old symptoms, such as fatigue, numbness, or tingling, which start up when someone with MS is overtired or perhaps fighting off an infection. “A relapse occurs when the disease acts up and causes new damage to the nervous system,” said Dr. McCoyd. “Relapse symptoms that last for more than a full day and include symptoms that are disabling are usually treated.” After treatment, these symptoms may go away completely, a period known as remission. New medications to treat MS are aimed at keeping people in remission for longer periods of time. Flare symptoms that have occurred before and are not disabling usually don’t require any treatment.

Four Types of MS

“There is relapsing-remitting, the most common type; relapsing-progressive; secondary-progressive; and primary-progressive MS,” explained Wilson. People who have the relapsing-remitting type of MS have periods of remission between attacks, when the disease does not progress. About 85 percent of people have this type of MS. The progressive types of MS are more difficult to manage and treat because they have few or no periods of remission between attacks. These types of MS are rare.

MS Is Treatable

There was a time when doctors could only treat severe MS symptoms with steroids, and then hope for the best. Now, however, promising medical advances are available. “If I have to say one thing about MS, it is that it is treatable,” said Wilson. “Gone are the days when we had to stand by and watch the disease progress without being able to treat it. There are a number of medications available, and more in the pipeline. Today’s medications are effective in reducing the symptoms and the progression of the disease.”

MS Medications Are Evolving

Steroid drugs are still used to treat MS relapse symptoms, but the big advance in MS treatment over the past 20 years has been a category of medication called disease-modifying drugs. These drugs are started as soon as possible after diagnosis to prevent MS progression. Medications called interferons, given by injection, prevent immune cells from getting into the brain and the spinal cord. Other medications are given by periodic intravenous infusion, and some can be taken by mouth. Newer drugs are becoming available that have fewer side effects, can be taken by mouth, and may need to be given only a few times a year. In 2012, for example, great advancements were made in the use of nanotechnology for treating MS.

The Prognosis for People With MS Is Improving

Early treatment with disease-modifying drugs has changed the prognosis of MS. “Except for rare cases of progressive disease, data from the past 20 years now show that people with MS can expect to live full and normal lives with no drop in life expectancy,” said McCoyd. The majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled. Although some people will need the help of a cane or wheelchair because of fatigue or weakness, about two-thirds of people with MS never lose their ability to walk.

You Can Live a Full Life With MS

“Generally, eating healthy foods and exercise help,” said Wilson. “The most common triggers for symptoms are infections, heat, and high stress. Avoiding these can reduce flare-ups in many people.” Although most people with MS do not become severely disabled, they do have bothersome and unpredictable MS symptoms, and they may tire easily. They need to know their limitations and work closely with their MS treatment team. Women with MS can get pregnant and often go into remission during pregnancy.

Hope for a Cure

Although a cure does not yet exist for MS, treatment and management have come a long way. “There are several new drugs that will be approved this year alone,” said McCoyd. New drugs also have been approved to reduce symptoms of the rarer relapsing forms of MS. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, advances in the treatment and understanding of MS are being made every year, and the possibility that future research will finally find the cure for MS is very encouraging. Meanwhile, research into the use of stem cells to cure MS is ongoing.

6 Interesting Multiple Sclerosis Facts

1. The first notable case of multiple sclerosis (MS) was of Augustus d’Este (1794–1848), a cousin of Queen Victoria, as he fully documented his disease but many believe Lidwina of Holland in the 14th century had MS long before him.

Lidwina of Schiedam is the patron saint of ice skating and disease. According to her biography, she may be the first case of MS as the risk factors and symptoms seem to line up. Regardless who was the first possible case, multiple sclerosis was not named or described as it’s own disease until 1868 by Jean-Martin Charcot, a man considered to be the father of neurology who called it sclerose en plaques.

2. Multiple sclerosis is more commonly seen in regions away from the equator. The highest incident rate seems to be in Scotland.

We don’t have a full understanding of what causes MS but for every 10 degrees away from the equator symptoms seem to occur an average of 10 months earlier. It’s been suggested that vitamin D and exposure to sunlight may play a role but it’s not completely clear what that is yet. There are studies that suggest though that they may help with reducing risk and symptoms of MS. Researchers have measured the levels of UVB radiation, which is related to latitude, finding that Mexico has almost 18 times more UVB levels during the winter than Denmark. Patients from the lowest UVB countries seem to develop symptoms two years before those in the highest UVB countries. While light exposure might be a link to MS, there are other environmental and genetic factors that play a role as well.

3. Women are more than twice as likely to have MS than men.

And the numbers might even be as high as four times now. It’s pretty well known that the brains are women and men are hardwired differently but researchers are finding that this goes beyond emotions, logic, and reasoning. Scientists have found that the S1PR2, a protein that controls the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, is more common in those diagnosed with MS and women seem to produce a lot more of it than men. Work is being done to create a ‘tracer’ chemical that will attach to S1PR2 proteins that will show during PET scans.

4. 42% of MS patients were originally misdiagnosed with a different condition.

Multiple sclerosis is a complex disease that can be hard to identify at first glance. Symptoms will present differently in each patient depending on what nerves are being affected even if it’s the same region in the central nervous system (CNS). Fatigue is the most common symptom of MS but others include:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Memory loss/brain fog
  • Muscle spasms and weakness
  • Heat sensitivity
  • Bladder Problems
  • Pain
  • Mood disorders
  • Vision and hearing problems

5. There are 4 types of MS –

  • Relapsing-remitting (RRMS) – With about 85% of MS patients being diagnosed with RRMS it is the most common type of MS. Patients go through cycles of remissions and relapses (also called flare-ups or exacerbations) as new symptoms present or old return.
  • Primary-progressive (PPMS) – PPMS is not very common with only about 10% of those with MS having it. It is a slow progression of worsening symptoms without any remission or relapse cycles.
  • Secondary-progressive (SPMS) – Symptoms worsen over time regardless of any remission or relapse cycles. Many who have RRMS will eventually be diagnosed with SPMS.
  • Progressive-relapsing (PRMS) – This is characterized by a continuous decline from the start. There are no remissions but acute relapses, with no guarantee of recovery. Only 5% of MS patients have PRMS.

6. Medicine, screening, and treatment are improving

Like with other conditions, scientific advancements have improved quality of life for many. There are more options compared to even just 10 years ago. Scientists are finding new ways to screen with PET scans as mentioned above and are coming with more ways to help patients. Many of the treatment options are available in pill or infusion form and their ultimate goals are to either slow the damage from MS, minimize flare-up symptoms, or help physical or mental functions. Treatment is a lifelong course and starting as soon as possible helps slow the progression of MS so it’s important to find a medicine that is a good fit. Clinical trials are imperative in learning more about how to help treat the disease. Keeping an active lifestyle and eating properly can also help with reducing symptoms.

2.3 million people around the world are affected by multiple sclerosis and there are communities that are actively seeking ways to better their lives. Living with MS is an increasingly manageable condition with some lifestyle adjustments and a proper course of treatment.


The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America recognizes March as multiple sclerosis (MS) awareness month. If you are between the ages of 20 and 40, perhaps now is a time to become more aware of this chronic, incurable disease.

Here are 10 facts about MS

1. Multiple sclerosis is the most common neurological disease in young adults, and afflicts more than 350,000 people in the United States. 2. Early signs of MS include:

  • vision problems
  • numbness in the face, arms, legs, and fingers
  • chronic pain and involuntary muscle spasms
  • fatigue and weakness
  • balance problems and dizziness
  • bladder dysfunction
  • cognitive problems

3. MS occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective covering of nerve cells, leading to diminished functions in the brain and spinal column. 4. Genetic factors don’t seem to play a large role in MS. 5. There are four types of MS, the most common is called relapsing-remitting MS. These patients develop symptoms which respond to treatment and then resolve. Episodes of remission may last weeks to years. 6. Physicians often use imaging studies such as magnetic resonance imaging to look for signs of injury to the brain and spinal cord. 7. Although most treatments for MS are individualized based on the symptoms of the patient, such as controlling muscle spasms, managing bladder control etc., patients are frequently prescribed medications to help control the immune system. 8. Emotional health is important when battling MS because excessive stress can lead to increases in hormones such as adrenalin and glucocorticoids that negatively impact the immune system. 9. MS was first described by the French pathologist Jean-Martin Charcot 150 years ago. 10. The quest for an MS cure continues. In addition to MS societies and foundations that fund research, the NIH will spend $103 million dollars on MS research this year.

For more information on MS, please visit:

Mulitple Sclerosis Association of America The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation The National Multiple Sclerosis Society

To read about Sanford-Burnham research on mulitple sclerosis, click here.

When you’re diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), there’s a lot to learn. You find out that MS is a chronic neurological disorder that causes lesions within the central nervous system. The lesions form when the immune system mistakenly attacks myelin, the layer of insulation surrounding nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. These lesions interrupt nerve signals between the brain and the rest of the body. It’s a communication problem. This results in a variety of potential symptoms, depending on the location of the lesions.

We know that women get MS at a higher rate than men. You can be diagnosed at any age, but it’s most likely to happen when you’re between the ages of 20 and 50. We know it’s not contagious and that it’s a chronic illness. Researchers have uncovered a lot of new information about the disease in recent decades, but much mystery remains. Some of what we do know and some of what we don’t know about MS may surprise you:

1. We don’t know how many people have MS.

We’re not sure how many people in the United States are living with MS. That’s because there there’s no national registry and doctor’s aren’t required to report new cases of MS to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or any other agency. Estimates range from 350,000 to 500,000. For some people, symptoms are mild, or they come and go, making diagnosis difficult, so the actual number of cases may be much higher. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 2.5 million people have MS.

2. We don’t know what causes MS.

Researchers have come a long way, but we still don’t understand exactly what causes MS. It’s not inherited, but there does seem to be a genetic predisposition for developing MS. We do know that the incidence of MS rises as you get farther from the equator. In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks myelin, the protective substance that surrounds nerve fibers. Exactly what triggers that response is unclear. Some avenues of research include viruses, infectious agents, and other environmental factors.

3. There’s no test for MS.

There’s no simple way to diagnose MS, no single test that can give you a definitive answer. It takes patient history, neurological exam, and a series of tests to reach a diagnosis. Because symptoms of MS are similar to those of other neurological disorders, some tests are performed to rule those out. Diagnostic testing may include:

  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the head and spine to view old lesions and active lesions in the central nervous system
  • blood tests to rule out a variety of other disorders
  • evoked potentials to measure how your nervous system responds to stimulation
  • visual evoked potentials
  • lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to search for inflammatory cells and rule out certain infections and other illnesses

To arrive at the diagnosis of MS, your doctor must be able to identify two distinct areas of damage in the central nervous system, conclude that the damage happened at different times, and rule out all other possibilities.

4. There’s more than one type of MS.

You can’t judge one person’s MS by another’s because symptoms vary a great deal and range from a mild course to severely debilitating. There are also four main types of MS:

  • Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), the most common type at diagnosis, has clearly defined attacks that come and go. They may last from a few days to a month or more. In periods of remission, the disease does not progress. During that time, you may have residual symptoms or complete recovery.
  • Primary-progressive MS (PPMS) has no clear relapses or remission. There’s a steady disease progression from the start.
  • Secondary-progressive MS (SPMS) gets its start as RRMS, but eventually changes to the progressive form.
  • Progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS) is progressive from the beginning, but there are also distinct relapses.

5. Fatigue is often the most debilitating symptom of MS.

There are a lot of symptoms of MS, and many of them are debilitating. Fatigue is one of those “invisible” symptoms that can really pack a punch. For people with immune system diseases, fatigue takes on a whole new meaning. It’s not feeling tired. It’s not being a little sleepy. A full night’s sleep does not cure this type of fatigue. It’s a down-to-your-bones overwhelming exhaustion that makes it hard to move and tackle simple tasks. Fatigue of this nature can become disabling. People who live with chronic fatigue are often labeled as lazy or antisocial. This misunderstanding can create an emotional burden.

Despite the many unknowns, since the advent of the MRI, doctors are able to diagnose MS earlier than before, and options for treatment are improving all the time. MS is a life-altering diagnosis, but because the disease is so variable, it’s impossible to predict its course. Many people, including me, live active and fulfilling lives, despite MS.

For more information about MS, visit www.msfocus.org. The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF) is a service-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with MS maintain their health and well-being. The MSF is located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but they’ve got ambassadors all around the country, ready to answer your questions or address your group. I’m an MSF Ambassador in Virginia and welcome comments and questions. Email me: [email protected]

Related Reading
5 Tips for Living with MS
The Disabilities You Don’t See
No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis

multiple sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis Facts

Facts about Multiple Sclerosis

General Information about Multiple Sclerosis

  • First Diagnosed in 1849
  • The earliest known description of a person with possible Multiple Sclerosis dates from 14th century Holland
  • Multiple Sclerosis is the most common progressive and disabling neurological condition in young adults
  • Approx 2.5 million people worldwide, have Multiple Sclerosis
  • Around 400,000 people in the United States have Multiple Sclerosis
  • In the UK, approx 70,000 people have the disease
  • Approx 50,000 people in Canada have Multiple Sclerosis
  • Scotland has the highest incidence of Multiple Sclerosis per head of population in the world
  • In Scotland, over 10,500 people have Multiple Sclerosis
  • No virus has ever been isolated as the cause of Multiple Sclerosis
  • Average age of clinical onset is 30 – 33 years of age
  • The average age of diagnosis is 37 years of age
  • The average time between clinical onset of MS and diagnosis by physicians is 4 – 5 years
  • 10% of cases are diagnosed after the age of fifty
  • In 1936, only 8% of patients were reported to survive beyond 20 years after onset of illness
  • In 1961, over 80% of Multiple Sclerosis patients were reported surviving to 20 years after onset of illness
  • 2002 – A patient with Multiple Sclerosis can expect to live to average population life-expectancy minus seven years (mean life expectancy – 7 years)
  • Multiple Sclerosis is five times more prevalent in temperate climates than in tropical climates
  • Multiple Sclerosis affects women much more frequently than men. Approx. 1.7 – 2:1 in the US and approx 3:2 in the UK
  • The ratio of white to non-white is approx 2:1
  • Gypsies and Inuit’s do get Multiple Sclerosis although the incidence rate is much lower than other populations at approx 19 per 100,000
  • Native Indians of North and South America, the Japanese and other Asian peoples have a very low incidence rate of Multiple Sclerosis
  • In identical twins where one twin develops the disease, the likelihood of the second twin developing Multiple Sclerosis is approx 30%
  • The incidence rate for non-identical twins, where one contracts Multiple Sclerosis, is approx 4%
  • The risk of contracting Multiple Sclerosis if a first-degree relative (father, mother, sibling) has the disease, is approx 1% – 3% overall
  • The risk of contracting Multiple Sclerosis if your father has the disease is approx 1 in 100
  • The risk of contracting Multiple Sclerosis if your mother has the disease is approx 1 in 50
  • The risk among the general population of contracting Multiple Sclerosis is approx 1 in 800

See also:

Multiple Sclerosis symptom facts

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