Multiple Sclerosis


What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, at times disabling disease of the central nervous system - the brain and spinal cord. The disease attacks the protective myelin covering of the central nervous system, causing inflammation and often destroying the myelin in patches. The severity of MS, progression and specific symptoms cannot be predicted at the time of diagnosis. While MS can cause disabilities, it is important to remember for most people it will be many years before they may require even a cane on a regular basis

What causes MS?

It is not know as yet what causes MS. Most researchers believe that MS is an autoimmune disease. For reasons that are still unclear, the body's immune system malfunctions and starts attacking the myelin which protects the central nervous system. There is some evidence that MS may be triggered by a common virus, and that certain people are more susceptible to developing MS because of genetic factors. There is no evidence, however, that MS is a directly inherited disease. A number of genes are probably involved in whatever makes some people more susceptible to MS. Multiple sclerosis most often strikes young adults - women and men between the ages of 20 to 40 who are in their career and family building years. The average age of diagnosis is 30, but cases of MS have been diagnosed in childhood, and people in their fifties have been diagnosed as well. Women develop MS almost twice as often as men.

What Are Some Common Symptoms of MS?

The following symptoms are the most common experienced by most people. Because not everyone is alike, not everyone will experience all symptoms:

  • Visual Disturbances - may include vision blurring, double vision, involuntary rapid eye movement and very rarely, loss of sight.
  • Extreme Fatigue - a debilitating kind of fatigue that comes on suddenly. This is the most common symptom of MS.
  • Balance and Coordination Problems - may include loss of balance, tremor, unstable walking, dizziness, clumsiness and lack of coordination.
  • Stiffness of Muscles (spasticity) - sometimes the muscles can go into very painful muscle spasms.
  • Weakness - the muscles in the legs can become very weak making it difficult to walk.
  • Altered Sensation - This may include tingling, numbness (paraethesia) or a burning feeling in one particular area of the body. Facial pain may occur because of trigeminal neuralgia (also known as tic douloureux), which involves a malfunction of one of the major facial nerves.
  • Sensitivity To Heat - Many people with MS find they become sensitive to heat and their symptoms worsen while in a hot environment
  • Speech and Swallowing Problems - These may include slowing of speech, slurring of words, changes in rhythm of speech and difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia).
  • Bladder and Bowel Problems - Bladder problems may include the need to urinate frequently or urgently, incomplete emptying of the bladder or emptying at inappropriate times. Bowel problems may include constipation and, infrequently, loss of bowel control.
  • Sexuality and Intimacy - These can include from time to time impotence, diminished arousal and loss of sensation.
  • Short Term Memory and Cognitive Problems - These may include problems with short-term memory, concentration, judgment or reasoning


Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that has to be lived with on a daily basis and for the rest of one's life. If you have little or no physical disability, your lifestyle and that of your family may not change at all. Nevertheless, the knowledge of the disease and its potential implications can weigh very heavily on the individual with the disease and the surrounding family. It all really depends upon the symptoms experienced and how one feels. Symptoms can be continually present or pronounced at different times. The severity of the symptoms often dictate to what extent MS will affect one's life.

Many people with MS say they have to plan ahead more than they were used to doing in the past and that they have to change some of their activities and schedules. If fatigue is a problem, for example, several short rest periods each day may allow you to continue your usual routine, but at a slightly slower pace.

Tips For Caregivers

  • Choose to take charge of your life, and don't let your loved one's illness or disability always take center stage.
  • Remember to be good to yourself. Love, honor and value yourself. You're doing a very hard job and you deserve some quality time, just for you.
  • Watch out for signs of depression, and don't delay in getting professional help when you need it.
  • When people offer to help, accept the offer and suggest specific things that they can do.
  • Educate yourself about your loved one's condition. Knowledge is power.
  • There's a difference between caring and doing. Be open to technologies and ideas that promote your loved one's independence.
  • Trust your instincts. Most of the time they'll lead you in the right direction.
  • Grieve for your losses, and then allow yourself to dream new dreams.
  • Stand up for your rights as a caregiver and a citizen.
  • Seek support from other caregivers. There is great strength in knowing you are not alone.