Frequently Asked Questions
The following are some frequently asked questions that may help you as you manage your MS.
WHAT IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS?
MS is an unpredictable, long-term disease of the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. MS is thought to be caused by the immune system. Cells of the immune system are thought to incorrectly attack parts of the CNS.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED BY MS?
The numbers of MS cases in the world and in the United States are difficult to determine. This is because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not require doctors to report new cases. Also, MS can be non-specific and the disease can sometimes be very difficult to diagnose. However, it is estimated that around 2.5 million people in the world have MS, with 400,000 cases in the United States.
WHO GETS MS?
Any person, man or woman, can develop MS. However, it is 2-3 times more likely in women than men. The disease occurs in most ethnic groups, including African-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and Asians. It is most common in Caucasians of northern European ancestry. It is also more common the further you get from the equator – in the United States, it is more common in Northern states than in Southern states.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF MS?
Doctors and researchers are still unsure about what exactly causes MS. However, a combination of genetics, a person’s environment, and possibly even a virus may be involved. Because some genes make a person more likely to get MS, and because genes are inherited, actually developing MS may be inherited (i.e., passed on from parents to children). Any of several viruses such as measles, herpes, and influenza may also be associated with MS, but a “cause-and-effect’ relationship has not been proven. Environmental factors, including cigarette smoking, obesity and/or low Vitamin D, may also be related, but again, the exact causes are unknown.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SYMPTOMS OF MS?
The most common early symptoms of MS include tingling and/or numbness in the limbs, loss of balance, weakness, and blurred or double vision. Less common symptoms may include speech problems, weakness or paralysis, lack of coordination, bladder control problems, and cognitive disturbances. As time goes by, other symptoms of MS can develop, including heat sensitivity, changes in thinking or memory and fatigue.
WHAT IS A RELAPSE?
A MS relapse (also known as a flare-up or exacerbation) occurs when new damage in the brain or spinal cord occurs. This new damage can result in a worsening of old symptoms, or presence of new symptoms. Current MS disease-modifying medications are designed to make relapses less frequent.
IS THERE A CURE FOR MS?
At this time, there is no known cure for MS. However, there is a variety of medications available to help manage relapses and slow disability progression. These agents are designed to help people with MS have fewer relapses. Other medications help people with MS manage their symptoms and live a fulfilling and productive life.
WILL I BE PUT ON MEDICATION FOR MS?
At this time, there are several FDA-approved ‘disease-modifying’ medications that can be used to treat MS. Many MS specialists believe that these medications should be initiated as soon as possible following diagnosis. These medications help to reduce inflammation, lower the severity and frequency of relapses, and may help to slow disability progression. Along with medications to treat MS itself, there are other medications your doctor may suggest. These address symptoms such as pain, bladder/bowel problems, weakness/fatigue, cognitive problems, and sexual dysfunction.
DO DIET AND STRESS AFFECT MS?
While diet and stress may not actually cause MS, improving them may lead to benefits for patients with MS. Eating healthy over time may help reduce fatigue, increase energy, and help other problems associated with MS. By understanding some of the mental changes that occur with a chronic disease like MS, patients may achieve a healthier mental state. Avoiding unnecessary stress and learning how to cope with day-to-day challenges is important for patients with MS.
CAN I GET PREGNANT IF I HAVE MS?
For a woman with MS, deciding whether or not to have a child can be difficult. MS has not been shown to decrease the chances of getting pregnant or carrying a child to full term. However, planning the pregnancy and learning everything you can about MS with your doctor and partner can make the decision process easier. Pregnancy is frequently associated with a reduction of MS symptoms, particularly in the second and third trimesters, though the six months after delivering the baby is associated with a higher risk of a relapse.
REFERENCES AND ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Multiple Sclerosis: Frequently Asked Questions. Available at:
- Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Multiple Sclerosis FAQs. Available at:
- Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. Frequently Asked Questions about Multiple Sclerosis. Available at:
- Frequently Asked Questions about Multiple Sclerosis. Available at:
This site is NOT considered medical advice. It contains general information about multiple sclerosis, and patients must not rely on the information as an alternative to advice from their healthcare provider. Patients should never delay seeking medical advice, discontinue medical treatment, or disregard medical advice based on the information on this site.