Multiple sclerosis

 

Overview of multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a nervous system disorder. In people with MS, the immune system starts attacking the protective coating (myelin sheath) of nerve fibers in the spinal cord and brain. When this happens, the nerves cannot communicate effectively—or at all. Doctors are not able to reverse damage to the nervous system once it occurs.

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Symptoms of multiple sclerosis

Everyone experiences MS a little differently, which means the signs and symptoms of the disease varies. Because MS interrupts or blocks communication between nerves in the brain and spine, it causes symptoms such as muscle weakness, loss of coordination, tingling sensations, or problems with thinking and memory.

Causes of multiple sclerosis

MS is the result of damage to the protective coating (myelin sheath) that surrounds nerves. Myelin is much like insulation around an electrical wire. In people with MS, the myelin sheath that coats the nerves of the brain and spine breaks down in many places. The nerve cannot send or receive high-speed messages (impulses) effectively.

If the damage becomes severe, the nerve may not be able to send impulses at all, causing symptoms, such as walking problems. The specific symptoms depend on which nerves are involved.

Researchers do not fully understand what causes MS to develop, but they know it involves the immune system, which mounts an attack against myelin. Exactly how this process starts is not clear. MS is more common in people with a parent or sibling who has the disease, so genes appear to play a role.

Exposure to certain infections and possibly environmental factors may also affect your risk of developing MS. The disease occurs in people of any ethnicity or gender, although it is more common among Caucasian females.