Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Quick Facts: 6 Things to Know
Ability Central shares what researchers have discovered about the uniqueness and unpredictability of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
By Ability Central
27 February, 2023
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affects nearly 1 million people in the United States. In this article, Ability Central will address the following questions about MS:
- What is Multiple Sclerosis?
- What are the different kinds of MS?
- What causes Multiple Sclerosis?
- Can MS affect communication?
- What is the prognosis for people with MS?
- Where can you go for more information about the disease?
What is MS?
MS is an unpredictable disease that impacts the central nervous system's brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. It damages the myelin sheath, which surrounds and protects nerve cells. This damage slows down or blocks messages between the brain and the body, leading to the symptoms of MS. These symptoms include:
- Visual disturbances
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble with coordination and balance
- Sensations such as numbness, prickling, or "pins and needles."
- Thinking and memory problems
For a complete overview of the symptoms, see Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Signs and symptoms.
What are the different kinds of MS?
There are four recognized types of MS.
- The onset of neurological symptoms over hours to days characterizes relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). These symptoms persist for days or weeks and then disappear partially or wholly. Patients may then remain symptom-free for weeks or years (known as remission). If symptoms return, they often gradually worsen (known as relapsing).
- Secondary progressive MS (SPMS) is when the relapsing-remitting condition changes to a point where there are no discernable relapses and remissions. Secondary progressive MS usually begins with the relapsing-remitting disease course. In secondary progressive MS, symptoms accumulate and worsen without any remission.
- Primary-progressive MS (PPMS) is when patients gradually worsen from the start of their MS disease. This includes a gradual change in mobility and heaviness in the lower limbs.
- Benign MS is a mild course where an individual will have mild symptoms of MS for about 15 years. The only way to identify benign MS is after someone has had the diagnosis of MS for at least 15 years and has had no evidence of worsening.
What causes MS?
No one knows what causes MS. It may be an autoimmune disease, which happens when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake. What is known includes:
- Women are more than two to three times as likely as men to have relapsing-remitting MS.
- MS occurs in most ethnic groups, including African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics/Latinos, but is most common among white people of northern European descent.
- MS is far more common in countries with temperate climates, including Canada, the northern United States, New Zealand, southeastern Australia, and Europe.
- MS often begins between the ages of 20 and 40.
- It is linked to low vitamin D levels, smoking, and obesity.
- MS is usually mild, but some people lose the ability to write, speak, or walk, causing difficulty with or the inability to communicate effectively.
- If one of your parents or siblings has had MS, you are at higher risk of developing the disease.
- MS is linked to a previous infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), the virus that causes mononucleosis.
Can MS affect communication?
MS can affect communication in several ways. Some common communication difficulties experienced by people with MS can include:
- Speech difficulties: People with MS may experience slurred speech, stuttering, or a decrease in the ability to speak clearly. They may also have difficulty controlling the volume of their voice.
- Language difficulties: MS can cause language problems, such as difficulty finding the right words, recalling words, or understanding language.
- Hearing difficulties: People with MS may experience hearing problems, making it difficult to understand what others are saying.
- Cognitive difficulties: MS can also impact cognitive processes, such as memory, attention, and concentration, which can affect a person's ability to communicate effectively.
- Fatigue: Fatigue is a common symptom of MS and can make it difficult for people to concentrate, which can affect their ability to communicate effectively.
These communication difficulties can have a profound effect on a person's quality of life and can impact their ability to work, socialize, and maintain relationships.
What is the prognosis for people with MS?
There is no universally effective treatment for multiple sclerosis. A physician may diagnose MS in some patients soon after the onset of the illness. In others, however, doctors may not readily identify the cause of the symptoms given the ongoing periods of remission and relapsing.
The lifespan for people with MS is about five to 10 years shorter than for the general population, but this gap decreases as treatments and care continue to improve.
Where can I get more information about Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
Ability Central has a library of resources to address your concerns about MS, including the following:
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Signs and symptoms
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS): What to do after receiving a diagnosis
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Your rights and support options