What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong condition of the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and spinal cord.

In MS, like in other autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system targets and attacks its own healthy tissues, in this situation it interferes with the protective myelin coating surrounding the nerves of the CNS.

For some reason, the immune system recognizes the myelin as foreign and potentially dangerous cells. The abnormal immune response can cause inflammation and damage within the CNS. The damage and scars to the myelin, and possibly to the nerves themselves, can affect the nerve’s ability to function appropriately, disrupting communication within the brain and between the brain and the body. Ultimately, the disease can cause permanent damage or degeneration of the nerves.

The damage to the CNS may induce a number of neurological symptoms depending on various different factors such as the relevant affected nerves and the amount of nerve damage induced. These symptoms may differ significantly from one person to another and throughout the disease course. 

Who is at risk?

Although the cause of MS is currently unknown, several factors are believed to increase the risk of developing it, including:

  • Geographical location- MS is more prevalent farther from the equator.
  • Low vitamin D-might play a vital role in MS.
  • Smoking-probably increases the risk of developing MS and is linked to more severe disease and rapid disease progression.
  • Obesity- may increase the risk of developing MS. In those already diagnosed with MS, obesity can contribute to inflammation and more MS activity.
  • Family history- having a parent or a sibling with MS increases the risk of developing the disease.
  • Gender-women are more likely to develop MS.
  • Age- although MS can occur at any age, most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 -50.

What is the disease course?

Most people with MS are diagnosed with a relapsing-remitting (RRMS) MS.  People with RRMS experience flare-ups of neurological symptoms accompanied by periods of partial or complete recovery (remission). During remission, all symptoms may disappear, or some of the symptoms may persist and remain constant. (Read more about: Multiple Sclerosis symptoms)

Some people with RRMS will eventually progress to Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS). They will experience a steady worsening of the symptoms over time. 

Some people with MS experience a slow worsening of symptoms and deterioration of neurological function from the start, without recurrence or remission, known as Primary progressive MS (PPMS).