Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable nervous system disease. It damages the material that surrounds and protects your nerve cells, which then slows down or blocks messages between your brain and your body.

MS affects women two or three times as often as men and often begins between the ages of 20 and 40.

While the effects of MS are usually mild, some people lose the ability to write, speak or walk. Symptoms vary and may include:

  • Visual disturbances, from blurriness to blindness
  • Muscle weakness or spasms
  • Trouble with coordination and balance
  • Sensations such as numbness, prickling or "pins and needles"
  • Bowel and bladder problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Sexual problems
  • Paralysis
  • Confusion and forgetfulness
  • Pain in the extremities or face

What you can do to help prevent or treat MS

Because the cause of MS is unknown, it can't be prevented. There is also no cure for the disease, but there are ways to slow down its progression and control its symptoms.

If your symptoms are not severe or frequent, your doctor may recommend just keeping an eye on your symptoms. But if you're suffering from pain or serious physical disabilities, the following therapies may help:

  • Beta interferon injections help regulate the immune system and may slow the progression of physical disability. It can also reduce the frequency and length of your attacks.
  • Amino acids injections can help decrease the frequency and severity of attacks. It has also been shown to reverse some existing damage.
  • Immunosuppressant injections can weaken the immune system, which decreases your symptoms.
  • Steroids, taken orally or intravenously, may help reduce the severity of your attacks.
  • Physical and occupational therapy help improve weakness after an attack. It can also help preserve the remaining function of your muscles affected by MS.
  • Antidepressant medication can help you cope with the psychological effects of MS, such as depression or apathy.
  • Healthy lifestyle habits, such as rest, regular exercise and a healthy diet, may help you cope with fatigue and stress caused by MS.

How to talk to your doctor

Because MS symptoms can be infrequent, it can be difficult to diagnose. Be sure to provide as complete a medical history as possible to your doctor and tell your doctor about any of these early symptoms:

  • Numbness or tingling in parts of the body, usually the leg or arm
  • Unexplained weakness, dizziness and fatigue
  • Double or blurry vision

If your doctor suspects MS, he or she will likely give you a physical exam to check the health of your nerves and muscles. The next step is an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to look for signs of MS and eliminate other possibilities. As a last step – but only if necessary – your doctor may take a sample of your spinal fluid to test for abnormalities.