Multiple Sclerosis | Overview

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What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system. Normally, antibodies produced by the immune system help protect the body against viruses, bacteria and other foreign substances. In people who have MS, the immune system destroys the substance that surrounds and protects your nerve cells – the myelin sheath.

The job of the nervous system is to send electrical messages back and forth from the brain to different parts of the body. Normally, the brain quickly sends signals through the spinal cord and then through nerves that branch out to all organs and body parts. When myelin around nerves is damaged or destroyed, the nerves can’t function properly to deliver these signals in the right way. This can cause symptoms throughout the body.

What is it like living with multiple sclerosis?

The most common form of MS is known as relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). When people who have this kind of MS have flare-ups, the symptoms become noticeably worse. Then there is a period of recovery, when symptoms get better or disappear completely for some time. In RRMS, symptom flare-ups may be triggered by an infection, such as the flu. More than 50% of people who have RRMS develop the secondary progressive type in which there are relapses followed by a gradual worsening of the disease.

About 15% to 20% of people who have MS have a form known as primary-progressive MS (PPMS). In this kind of MS, the disease gets steadily worse, without any remissions. A fourth type—progressive relapsing MS—is rare, but the pattern follows a worsening of the disease with sudden, clear relapses.

Often MS is mild, but some people lose the ability to write, speak or walk.

 

This information was developed as part of an educational program made possible through support from AstraZeneca.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Created: 04/10

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