Answers to Common Multiple Sclerosis Questions

Premier Physician Network’s doctors answer frequently asked questions about multiple sclerosis.

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, which includes the spinal cord, optic nerve, and brain, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon(NIH).

When someone has MS, myelin – the protective coating on the nerves in the brain and spinal cord – is damaged, according to the NIH. When the myelin is lost, it makes messages traveling along the nerves slow down or stop completely. This causes MS symptoms.

For more information about MS, talk with your doctor.

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What are some of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?

With multiple sclerosis (MS) the symptoms can vary with each attack, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon(NIH).

Attacks typically come in waves of strong symptoms followed by stretches of few to no symptoms, according to the NIH. However, when an attack occurs, it can last anywhere from days to months.

There are a variety of symptoms that MS can cause, which affect different body functions. Symptoms by category, according to the NIH, include:

  • Bladder and bowel symptoms
    • Constipation
    • Difficulty beginning to urinate
    • Frequent urination
    • Incontinence
  • Eye symptoms
    • Double vision
    • Eye discomfort
    • Rapid eye movements
    • Vision loss, one eye at a time
  • Muscle symptoms
    • Arm/leg movement problems
    • Balance loss
    • Coordination problems
    • Issues walking
    • Muscle spasms
    • Numbness
    • Tremors in one or more arm or leg
    • Weakness in one or more arm or leg
  • Numbness, pain, tingling
    • Pain in the face
    • Painful muscle spasms
    • Tingling or burning feeling in the arms and legs
  • Other brain and nerve symptoms
    • Balance problems
    • Decreased attention span
    • Depression
    • Dizziness
    • Hearing loss
    • Issues with reasoning and problem solving
    • Memory loss
    • Poor judgement
  • Sexual symptoms
    • Erection problems
    • Issues with vaginal dryness
  • Speech and swallowing symptoms
    • Chewing and swallowing problems
    • Slurred speech

One overarching symptom of MS is fatigue, which can get worse as MS progresses, according to the NIH. It’s common for the fatigue to be worst in the late afternoon.

For more information about MS symptoms, talk with your doctor.

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Who is at risk for developing multiple sclerosis?

Though the exact cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) has not been found, it is thought to be caused by a combination of environmental, genetic, and viral factors, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon(AAFP).

Various viruses have been linked to MS, according to the AAFP, and a virus from childhood could be what triggers the onset of the disease as an adult.

Women develop MS more than twice as often as men, and white people are more likely to develop the disease than people of other races, according to the AAFP.

People who have an immediate family history of MS – such as a parent or sibling with the disease – are also at greater risk, according to the AAFP. Having another autoimmune disease, such as thyroid disease or type 1 diabetes, also slightly increases the risk of having MS.

MS typically begins between ages 20 and 40.

Some studies have shown that living in locations with temperate climates, which would include the northern U.S., could put people at higher risk of MS, according to the AAFP.

Talk to your doctor for more information about the risks of developing MS.

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What role can lifestyle – such as diet and exercise – play in treating multiple sclerosis?

There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis (MS), but treatments can help to slow the disease, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon(NIH).

Making some lifestyle changes can help to keep you as strong and healthy as possible while living with MS, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon(AAFP).

The AAFP recommends the following lifestyle changes to help with MS:

  • Nutrition – well-balanced diet; eat low-fat foods; eat high-fiber foods; healthy diet promotes a strong immune system
  • Physical activity – exercise with doctor approval; strengthening exercises to help with stiffness and mobility; exercise overall to help with mood, balance, muscle tone, strength, balance, and coordination
  • Rest – fight fatigue caused by MS by getting plenty of rest; plan accordingly with your work and family
  • Support – encouragement helps to cope with MS; build a network of family, friends, coworkers
  • Temperature – be cautious around hot tubs and saunas; too much heat leads to muscle weakness

Talk to your doctor for more information about how lifestyle changes can help treat MS.

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Thanks to Premier Physician Network’s doctors for answering these common questions about multiple sclerosis:

Additional Resources

This website provides general medical information that should be used for informative and educational purposes only. Information found here should not be used as a substitute for the personal, professional medical advice of your physician. Do not begin any course of treatment without consulting a physician.