Frequently Asked Questions About Multiple Sclerosis
Print these questions and answers about multiple sclerosis to discuss with your health care provider.
1. What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, whereby the body's own immune system, which normally targets and destroys substances foreign to the body such as bacteria, mistakenly attacks normal tissues. In MS, the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system).
2. What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
Doctors still don't understand what causes multiple sclerosis, but there are interesting data that suggest that genetics, a person's environment, and possibly even a virus may play a role.
Researchers believe that MS may be inherited (passed on from parents to children). First, second and third degree relatives of people with MS are at increased risk of developing the disease. Siblings of an affected person have a 2%-5% risk of developing MS.
Some scientists theorize that MS develops because a person is born with a genetic predisposition to react to some environmental agent, which, upon exposure, triggers an autoimmune response.
In addition, some studies have suggested that many viruses such as measles, herpes, and the flu viruses may be associated with MS. To date, however, this connection has not been scientifically proven.
3. What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
The onset of multiple sclerosis may be dramatic or so mild that a person doesn't even notice any symptoms.
The most common early symptoms of MS include:
- Loss of balance
- Weakness in one or more limbs
- Blurred or double vision
Less common symptoms may include:
- Slurred speech
- Sudden onset of paralysis
- Lack of coordination
- Problems with thinking and processing information
As the disease progresses, other symptoms may include heat sensitivity, fatigue, changes in thinking or perception, and sexual disturbances.
4. Is Multiple Sclerosis Fatal or Contagious?
Multiple sclerosis is not considered a fatal or contagious inherited disease. As noted above, there may be a familial predisposition to developing MS. Prevalence in families of individuals with MS is somewhat higher than in the general population.
5. Is There a Cure for Multiple Sclerosis?
Unfortunately, there is not a cure for multiple sclerosis, but there are several drugs that may slow down the progression of the disease. There are also various treatments available that can help people with MS manage their symptoms and live a productive and fulfilling life.
6. Am I Going to Need a Wheelchair Because of Multiple Sclerosis?
Most people with multiple sclerosis usually get around without assistance; however, there may be a time when you will need some type of assistance. Approximately 25% of people with MS will eventually need a wheelchair. There may be a time when you will need to use some type of other walking aide like a cane or walker.