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Montgomery MS Center

What is MS

What is MS

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) which affects about 350,000 people in the United States today.  Twice as many women as men develop MS and about 200 new cases are diagnosed each week across the country.

With MS there is an inflammation and breakdown of the myelin sheath that normally surrounds and protects nerve fibers in the central nervous system or CNS.  Myelin works much the same way that insulation does on electrical wiring.  When any part of that sheath (or insulation) is disturbed, nerve impulses within the central nervous system are interrupted or distorted.  This process produces the many and varied symptoms of MS – which can range from occasional numbness and tingling sensations to fatigue, muscle spasms, bladder dysfunction and paralysis.  While it is believed to be a disease of immune function, no one knows exactly why MS occurs.  It is not directly inherited, nor is it contagious.

It is impossible to predict how MS will affect people, although there are some early clinical signs and findings that suggest more or less severe disease in the future.  For example, the early development of severe weakness and loss of balance and coordination may signal a more aggressive form.

Commonly, MS has a “relapsing and remitting” course in which there are flareups called exacerbations or relapses, followed by remissions or recovery.  Recovery may be partial or complete.  The exacerbation rate tends to be highest at the beginning of the disease and then declines.  For some people, exacerbations cease and a secondary progressive form of the disease occurs, in which there is a continuing slow progression of disability without remissions.  But people with either course may stabilize at any time.  Overall, two out of three people with MS remain ambulatory, that is, mobile and able to walk, though perhaps with limitations, throughout their lifetime.


This article was taken from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society publication, “Multiple Sclerosis and Your Emotions” by Mary Eve Sanford, Ph.D., and Jack H. Petajan, M.D.