What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease, which means it affects your nerves. It’s also an autoimmune disease. This means your body’s defenses against disease malfunction and start attacking your own cells.
With MS, your immune system attacks your body’s myelin, which is a protective substance that covers your nerves. The unprotected nerves are damaged and can’t function as they would with healthy myelin. The damage to the nerves produces a wide range of symptoms that vary in severity.
Read on for seven key facts you should know about MS.
1. It’s a chronic condition
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition, which means it’s long-lasting and there’s no cure for it. That said, it’s important to know that for the vast majority of people who have MS, the disease is not fatal. Most of the 2 million people worldwide with MS have a standard life expectancy. A rare few may have complications so severe that their life is shortened.
Although MS is a lifelong condition, many of its symptoms can be managed and controlled with medications and lifestyle adjustments.
2. Symptoms vary
The list of possible MS symptoms is long. It includes numbness and tingling, vision problems, balance and mobility issues, and slurred speech.
There’s no such thing as a “typical” symptom of MS because each person experiences the disease differently. The same symptoms may come and go frequently, or you may regain a lost function, such as bladder control. The unpredictable pattern of symptoms has to do with which nerves your immune system attacks at any given time.
3. MS involves relapse and remission
Most people who seek treatment for MS go through relapses and remissions. A relapse is when you experience a flare-up of symptoms. Relapses are also called exacerbations.
Remission is a period in which you have no symptoms of the disease. A remission can last for weeks, months, or, in some cases, years. But remission does not mean you no longer have MS. MS medications can help put you into remission, but you still have MS. Symptoms will likely return at some point.
4. There’s a cognitive side of MS
The damage MS does to your nerves can also affect your critical thinking and other cognitive (mental) skills. It’s not uncommon for people with MS to have problems with memory and finding the right words to express themselves. Other cognitive effects can include:
- inability to concentrate or pay attention
- impaired problem-solving skills
- trouble with spatial relations (knowing where your body is in space)
Cognitive problems can sometimes lead to frustration, depression, and anger. These are normal reactions that your doctor can help you manage.