Multiple sclerosis (MS) can make everyday activities more challenging. Here are 10 things you should know about this unpredictable disease.
MS is a progressive autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, and to date, has no cure. This year, about 200 people each week will be diagnosed with some form of MS.
MS can strike anyone at anytime, although women are diagnosed about 2.5 times more often than men. Most cases are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. Among racial groups, White people are diagnosed more commonly than other races, although Black people, though diagnosed in lower numbers, tend to suffer more severe symptoms.
Damage to the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells, known as the myelin sheath, is the cause of MS. When this nerve covering is damaged, in this case, due to inflammation caused by a person’s own immune cells attacking their nervous system, nerve signals slow down or stop. Inflammation can occur along any area of the brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord.
Nobody knows for sure why some people get MS and others don’t. The most common thought is a virus or gene defect is to blame. MS is not contagious, inherited or genetically transmitted, although there does seem to be some genetic susceptibility to the disease.
Environmental factors may play a role in who gets MS. Some research suggests people living in the colder regions of the United States, in Europe and Canada may be at a substantially higher risk, while people who reside in warmer tropical areas were at a much lower risk. But so far this is unsubstantiated.
Getting MS doesn’t significantly alter your life span. About 45 percent of people with MS are not severely affected by the disease, however, the course of the disease is unpredictable and no two people will experience the same set of symptoms.
The unpredictability of the disease means people with MS may have varying symptoms, varying degrees of severity, and each attack or flare up can be in a different location. A flare up can last for days, weeks or even months.