What is MS?
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS.
Who gets MS?
Most people living with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with more than twice as many women as men being diagnosed with the disease. There are an estimated 8,000-10,000 children under the age of 18 who also live with MS.
Studies indicate that genetic factors could make certain individuals more susceptible to the disease, but there's no evidence that MS is directly inherited. It occurs more commonly among Caucasians, especially those of northern European ancestry, but people of African, Asian and Hispanic backgrounds are not immune.
How many people have multiple sclerosis?
More than 2.3 million people are affected by MS worldwide. Because the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not require U.S. physicians to report new cases, and because symptoms can be completely invisible, the prevalence of MS in the U.S. can only be estimated.
The Society continues to advocate for the establishment of a national registry that will track the number of people living with MS and has made a commitment to re-evaluate the current prevalence estimate and investigate the process by which an updated estimate can be identified.
What are the typical symptoms of MS?
The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted. The disease varies greatly from person to person, and from time to time, in the same person. For instance, one person might experience abnormal fatigue, another might have severe vision problems, and another could develop attention and memory issues.
Even severe symptoms could disappear completely and the person could regain lost functions. In the worst cases, however, people can have partial or complete paralysis.
What causes these symptoms?
In MS, symptoms result when inflammation and breakdown occur in myelin, the protective insulation surrounding the nerve fibers of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). The nerve fibers themselves are also damaged. Myelin is destroyed and replaced by scars of hardened "sclerotic" patches of tissue.
Such lesions are called "plaques," and appear in "multiple" places within the central nervous system. This can be compared to a loss of insulating material around an electrical wire, which interferes with the transmission of signals.
Is MS fatal?
No, MS is not a fatal disease, except in rare cases. People who live with MS can be expected to have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.
Does MS always cause paralysis?
No. The majority of people living with MS do not become severely disabled. Two-thirds of people who have MS remain able to walk, though many will need an aid, such as a cane or crutches.
Is MS contagious?
No. MS is neither contagious nor directly inherited, although studies indicate that genetic factors might make certain individuals more susceptible to the disease.