Frequently Asked Questions About Multiple Sclerosis

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on December 21, 2022

1. What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

MS is problem with the immune system called an autoimmune disease. Instead of targeting only bacteria, viruses, and other invaders, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. In MS, it attacks the brain and spinal cord.

2. What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?

Doctors still don't understand why people get the disease, but genetics, a person's environment, and possibly even viruses may play a role.

Researchers think MS may be a condition that parents can pass to their children through genes. First-, second- and third-degree relatives of people with the disease have a higher risk of getting it.

Some scientists think people might get multiple sclerosis because they’re born with genes that make their bodies react to a trigger in the environment. Once they’re exposed to it, their immune system starts targeting their own tissues.

Some studies also have suggested that many viruses -- such as those for measles, herpes, and the flu -- may be linked with MS. But there’s no clear proof of a connection so far.

3. What Are the Symptoms?

The first warning signs of MS can be dramatic -- or so mild that a person doesn't even notice them.

The most common early symptoms include:

Less-common warning signs may be:

  • Slurred speech
  • Suddenly not being able to move part of your body, called paralysis
  • Lack of coordination
  • Problems with thinking and processing information

As the disease gets worse, other symptoms may include heat sensitivity, fatigue, and changes in thinking.

4. Can You Catch Multiple Sclerosis From Someone Else? Can You Die From It?

MS is not considered a fatal disease. And you can’t catch it from someone else.

If other people in your family have the disease, you may be more likely to get it at some point.

5. Is There a Cure?

No, but there are many drugs that can keep the disease from getting worse for a while. Along with medications, other treatments like physical therapy, rehab, and speech therapy can help you keep your symptoms under control and live an active life.

6. Am I Going to Need a Wheelchair?

Most people who have MS usually get around without help. But there may be a time when you'll need to use a cane or a walker to make it easier. About 25% of people with the condition eventually need a wheelchair.

7. Which Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Is Best for Me?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the different medications and therapies that can help people with MS.

The first step is to learn about your treatment options and talk about them with your doctor. Think about how well the treatment is supposed to work, any possible side effects, how you’ll take the therapy, and how it fits with your lifestyle.

Your doctor is a good source for information about the different types of treatments. They also can recommend MS support groups and other professionals who can help you.

8. How Does Deep Brain Stimulation Help?

The main goal of deep brain stimulation for MS is to ease tremors, or shaking you can’t control. It won’t help with other problems, such as loss of vision, feeling, or strength.

9. What Else Can Help Me?

A positive attitude can lower your stress and help you feel better.

Exercise techniques like tai chi and yoga can relax you and give you more energy, balance, and flexibility. Always check with your doctor before you start a new fitness routine. Don’t exercise so hard that you feel exhausted. If you smoke, quit.

It’s always a good idea to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, too. Ask your doctor what foods are right for you.

10. What Is Optic Neuritis?

It's the inflammation of the nerve that connects your eye to your brain. It can cause:

If you notice any of these symptoms, tell your doctor right away. The key to protecting your eyesight is to catch the problem early. Your doctor can treat you with steroids to fight the inflammation in the nerve.

Optic neuritis usually happens to one eye at a time, though it can affect both at once. It’s often the first symptom that someone has MS. About half of people with the condition will have optic neuritis at least once.

But it can happen to people who have other health problems, too, so it doesn't automatically mean that someone has or will get MS.

Most people with optic neuritis recover fully, sometimes without any treatment.