FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The following is a list of frequently asked questions that may help patients as they manage Multiple Sclerosis.
WHAT IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS?
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, long-term disease of the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. MS is thought to be mediated by the immune system, since cells of the immune system incorrectly attack parts of the CNS.
WHO GETS MS?
Any person, man or woman, may develop MS. However, 2-3 times as many women than men develop MS. The disease occurs in most ethnic groups, including African-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and Asians. However, it is most common in Caucasians of northern European ancestry.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED BY MS?
Approximately 2.5 million people in the world have MS. The numbers of cases in the world and in the United States are difficult to determine exactly since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not require doctors to report new cases, and MS can be non-specific and the disease can sometimes be very difficult to diagnose.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF MS?
Doctors and researchers are still unsure about what exactly causes MS. However, a combination of genetics, a person’s environment, and possibly even a virus may play a role. Because some genes make a person more susceptible, and because genes are inherited, the susceptibility to develop MS may be inherited (i.e., passed on from parents to children). For example, siblings of an affected person have a 2%-5% risk of developing MS. Some studies have suggested that any of several viruses such as measles, herpes, and influenza may be associated with MS, but a “cause-and-effect’ relationship has not been definitively proven. Environmental factors, including cigarette smoking, obesity and/or low Vitamin D, may also be related, but again, the exact causes are unknown.
WHAT ARE TYPICAL SYMPTOMS OF MS?
The most common early symptoms of MS include tingling, numbness, loss of balance, weakness, and blurred or double vision. Less common symptoms may include speech problems, weakness or paralysis, lack of coordination, bladder control problems, and cognitive disturbances. As time goes by, other symptoms of MS can include heat sensitivity, changes in thinking or memory and fatigue.
WHAT IS A RELAPSE?
A MS relapse (also known as a flare-up or exacerbation) occurs when new damage in the brain or spinal cord disrupts nerve signals. This new damage can result in a worsening of old symptoms, or presence of new symptoms. Current MS disease-modifying medications are designed to make relapses less frequent.
IS THERE A CURE FOR MS?
At this time, there is no known cure for MS. However, there is a variety of medications available to help manage relapses and thereby slow the accumulation of disability of the disease. These agents are designed to help people with MS have fewer relapses, and other medications help people with MS manage their symptoms and live a fulfilling and productive life.
WILL I BE PUT ON MEDICATION FOR MS?
At this time, there are several FDA-approved ‘disease-modifying’ medications that can be used to treat relapsing forms of MS. Many MS specialists believe that these medications should be initiated as soon as possible following MS diagnosis. These medications help to reduce CNS inflammation, lower the severity and frequency of attacks, and may help to slow disability accumulation. Along with medications to treat MS itself, there are other medications your doctor may suggest to deal with other symptoms such as pain, bladder/bowel problems, weakness/fatigue, cognitive problems, and sexual dysfunction.
DO DIET AND STRESS AFFECT MS?
While diet and stress may not actually cause MS, improving both may lead to benefits in patients with MS. Eating healthy over time may help reduce fatigue, increase energy, and help other problems associated with MS. Similarly, by understanding some of the psychological changes that occur with a chronic disease like MS, a patient may achieve a more healthy mental state. Avoiding unnecessary stress and learning how to more effectively cope with day-to-day challenges is important for patients with MS.
CAN I GET PREGNANT IF I HAVE MS?
For a female patient with MS, deciding whether or not to have a child can be difficult. MS has not been shown to decrease the chances of getting pregnant or carrying a child to full term. However, planning the pregnancy and learning everything you can about MS with your doctor and partner can make the decision process easier. Pregnancy is frequently associated with a reduction of MS symptoms, particularly in the second and third trimesters, though the six months after delivering the baby is associated with a higher risk of a relapse.
REFERENCES AND ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Multiple Sclerosis: Frequently Asked Questions. Available at:
- Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Multiple Sclerosis FAQs. Available at:
- Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. Frequently Asked Questions about Multiple Sclerosis. Available at:
- WebMD. Frequently Asked Questions about Multiple Sclerosis. Available at:
This site is NOT considered medical advice. It contains general information about multiple sclerosis, and patients must not rely on the information as an alternative to advice from their healthcare provider. Patients should never delay seeking medical advice, discontinue medical treatment, or disregard medical advice based on the information on this site.