5 important facts about multiple sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a condition that affects the central nervous system and changes the way that the nerves work. Many aspects of MS remain a mystery. This article covers five things we do know about this condition.

Almost 1 million people in the United States have multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

However, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) suggest that the number may be closer to 250,000–350,000, noting that it is difficult to know the exact figure.

This article looks at five important facts that people should know about MS.

1. The cause is unknown

Many scientists believe that MS is an autoimmune disease, which develops when the immune system attacks its own healthy tissues.

In MS, the body attacks myelin, which is the fatty substance that acts as a protective cover to nerve fibers. This disrupts communication between the brain and the rest of the body.

Doctors do not know why the immune system attacks myelin, but they believe the following factors may increase the risk:

  • having a family history of MS
  • having a history of other autoimmune conditions
  • having had certain viral infections
  • smoking
  • being 20–40 years old
  • being female
  • living in a temperate climate away from the equator

Also, people with MS often have low vitamin D levels.

Recent studies suggest there is also a moderate to high risk prevalence of MS in the regions of North African and the Middle East.

A person may have a genetic feature that makes them more likely to develop MS, but they may need exposure to an environmental factor to trigger it.

2. Symptoms can range in severity

In MS, the communication problems between the brain and body can lead to major damage to the nerves. Symptoms can range from mild, which may be inconvenient and annoying, to debilitating.

However, 2 in 3 people with MS will not lose the ability to walk, and the condition is rarely life-threatening.

In fact, life expectancy with MS has increased over recent years, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This is due to emerging therapies and scientists having a better understanding of the condition.

Some of the most common symptoms of MS include:

  • tiredness
  • weakness
  • pain, tingling, and numbness
  • stiffness
  • muscle spasms
  • difficulty walking or balancing
  • vertigo and dizziness
  • problems with thinking and memory
  • changes in vision and hearing

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