Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the brain and spinal cord. It is a long term condition that causes damage to the brain and spinal cord. There are several types of MS:
—New symptoms occur and worsen over a few days and weeks. This is called relapse. They last for a few weeks or months. This is followed by a period of no symptoms called remission. Symptoms may get worse with each occurrence.
Primary progressive MS
—Symptoms gradually worsen after they first appear. Relapses and remissions usually do not occur.
Secondary progressive MS
—Symptoms occur in relapses and remissions for years. Then symptoms suddenly begin to worsen.
MS is caused by a problem with the immune system. Parts of the immune system attack nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord, and nerves to the eyes. The exact reason for these abnormal immune actions is not known. Things that may play a role in development of MS include:
Heat, including weather, hot baths or showers, and fever
Intense physical activity
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. There is no test to confirm MS. Instead the doctor will rule out other conditions that cause similar problems. Tests may include:
Blood tests—to rule out other diseases that may mimic MS
Optical coherence tomography (OCT)—to look at the eye and nerve to the eye
There is no cure for MS. Treatment can help to ease symptoms and prevent or slow them from happening again. For primary and secondary progressive MS, treatment can also slow the progress of the disease. It may delay disability. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Medicine can help to slow MS. It may also help to manage symptoms. Types of medicine that can slow the progression of MS or prevent damage to nerve fibers include:
Corticosteroids may be given during active phases. It can help to reduce inflammation. It may lessen damage to the nerve fibers and shorten the length of relapses.
Symptoms may be managed with:
Muscle relaxants—to reduce muscle spasms
Potassium channel blockers—to help improve vision, motor skills, and relieve fatigue
Multiple sclerosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/multiple-sclerosis-ms/. Accessed September 13, 2020.
NINDS multiple sclerosis information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Multiple-Sclerosis-Information-Page. Accessed September 13, 2020.
What is MS? National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS. Accessed September 13, 2020.
4/25/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116285/Multiple-sclerosis-MS: Yadav V, Bever C Jr, Bowen J, et al. Summary of evidence-based guideline: Complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis: Report of the Guideline Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2014;82(12):1083-1092.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 9/13/2020
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