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Nancy Davis Foundation: Multiple Sclerosis FAQ

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) in which the insulating protective covering (myelin sheath) surrounding the nerves is destroyed or damaged, resulting in interference with the brain’s signals to various parts of the body. Hard or firm scar tissue replaces areas where the myelin has been lost, hence the name multiple sclerosis (multiple scars) in many patients. MS symptoms can be relatively benign in some cases to completely debilitating in other patients, as communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted.

Who contracts MS?

Young adults between the ages of 20 and 40 are most likely to develop MS. The disease is also at least twice as common in women as men, perhaps related to hormonal factors. The incidence of MS is ten times higher for those living in northern countries and the northern United States above the 40th parallel. The rate of MS decreases significantly in populations further south. Most scientists think the cause of MS is “multifactorial”. The person’s genetic heritage, gender, birthplace, age and environment contribute to susceptibility, resistance, and pattern of the course of MS. It is not an inherited disease, in the strict sense, but certain susceptibility does run in families. One theory suggests a common viral infection in your early teens results in the development of an immune response (autoimmune reaction) when one becomes an adult. In this autoimmune process, immune cells mistake myelin for a foreign invader and attack it.

What are the symptoms of MS?

Multiple sclerosis causes a wide variety of symptoms. The most common symptoms are:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Unusual fatigue, weakness and exhaustion
  • Vision problems
  • Poor coordination or difficulty walking
  • Slurred speech
  • Bladder problems

No two persons with MS will necessarily display the same symptoms, making it difficult to predict the course of the disease for an individual patient. Symptoms may occur suddenly and remain constant, or may continue in a progressive or episodic pattern. The uncertainty and unpredictability of MS makes living very difficult for the victims, their families and friends.

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