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Multiple sclerosis: Frequently asked questions

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a condition that affects nerves in the spinal cord and brain, which can cause problems with the muscles, balance and eyesight.

MS is an autoimmune disease in which the special coating protecting nerves, called myelin, becomes damaged disrupting signals to and from the brain.

What causes MS?

Doctors still don't understand what causes MS, but, a person's environment, and possibly even viruses and bacteria may play a role.

No single gene causes MS, but there is evidence that close family relations may have a higher risk of also developing MS. The chances of a brother, sister, or child of a person with MS also developing the condition is less than 1 in 30. However, if one twin has MS, then there's around a 1 in 4 chance of the other twin developing it.

Some scientists suggest 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.

Some studies have suggested that viruses may be linked to MS. These may be dormant for some years, but when they reawaken, an immune response is set off.

A lack of sunlight and vitamin D have been studied as risk factors for MS, as the condition is more common in countries furthest from the equator, including the UK.

What are the symptoms of MS?

The onset of MS may be dramatic or so mild that a person doesn't even notice any symptoms.

The most common early symptoms of MS include:

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.

Is there a cure for MS?

There is no cure for MS, but there are treatments for multiple sclerosis symptoms, and medicines to help stop symptoms or slow the progression of the disease. These are called disease modifying drugs.

Will I need to use a wheelchair?

Most people with MS 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 need a wheelchair. There may be a time when you would need to use some type of other walking aide like a walking stick or walking frame.

How do I decide which therapy is best for me?

Choosing to begin therapy can be a difficult decision to make; learning about your treatment options and discussing them with your doctor is the first step in deciding what treatment to begin. Some other factors to consider are effectiveness, side effects, your current lifestyle, and how the therapy is given.

WebMD Medical Reference

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