What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis Today

There is tremendous hope that people with multiple sclerosis will lead full, productive lives and pursue the adventures and dreams they value.  The advancements in diagnosis, treatment options and collective knowledge about MS allows our certified MS nurses and staff to provide coordinated care with a patient’s physician.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).  It affects women more than men and can be seen at any age, although it is most commonly diagnosed between ages 20 and 40.

MS causes damage to the myelin sheath, the protective coverings that surround nerve cells. It also causes progressive loss of nerve fibers and nerve cells.  When these are damaged, nerve cells slow down or stop.  Damage to the myelin and the nerve is caused by inflammation that occurs when the body's own immune cells attack the nervous system. This can occur along any area of the brain, optic nerve and spinal cord.  Although the exact cause of MS is unknown, genetic or environmental factors may play a role.

People with a family history of MS have a slightly higher risk of the disease. There is a higher incidence of MS in cooler climates such as those found in the northern United States, Canada and northern Europe.

How is MS Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of MS is based on a person’s medical history (including symptoms) and a neurological exam (an exam of brain and spinal cord function).  In addition, tests like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from a lumbar puncture, and blood work results may provide helpful additional information (definitions follow).
Criteria for a diagnosis of MS include:
•    Symptoms and signs that indicate disease of the brain or spinal cord
•    An MRI scan showing abnormal areas of the brain or spinal cord
•    Doctor’s exam showing objective evidence of disease of the brain or spinal cord
•    Two or more episodes that last at least 24 hours, and occur at least one month apart
•    All other causes of these symptoms have been ruled-out.