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The MS hug: Learn what causes it and how to get relief

Multiple Sclerosis


What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that leads to inflammation and damage to parts of your central nervous system (CNS). The CNS includes your brain, spinal cord, and nerves. In MS, your immune system attacks and destroys the coating (myelin) that covers your nerves. This may cause problems with how you feel, move, and see. The cause of MS is not known, but it may be an autoimmune disease.

What increases my risk of MS?

MS is more common in women and young adults. There may be multiple factors that increase your risk of MS:

  • Environmental: MS is seen more often in colder climates than in warmer climates. It is more likely to affect people who live in northern Europe, northern United States, and southern Australia.
  • Genetic: . You have a greater chance of getting MS if you have a parent or a sibling with MS.
  • Infections: Some infections can damage the myelin.

What are the signs and symptoms of MS?

The signs and symptoms of MS depend on where the damage is in the CNS. They may vary from person to person and from time to time in the same person. The most common signs and symptoms of MS include:

  • Tiredness that is worse in the afternoon
  • Difficulty controlling your bladder or bowels
  • Blurred or double vision or dizziness
  • Depression, mood swings, or lack of emotion
  • Muscle weakness and cramps
  • Numbness or tingling usually felt in the arms and legs
  • Sexual problems such as difficulty in maintaining an erection

What are the types of MS?

  • Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS): This is the most common type of MS. It has quiet and active periods. The quiet periods when you have few or no symptoms are called remission. Remission may last for months or years. The active periods when you have symptoms are called relapse.
  • Primary progressive MS (PPMS): This is when you have a slow or steady worsening of symptoms from the first signs of illness. There are no periods of remission.
  • Secondary progressive MS (SPMS): This begins with few or no symptoms. It is then followed by a steadily worsening disease. Periods of remission become less frequent.
  • Progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS): This is steadily worsening disease from the start or onset of MS. You may have periods with lessening of symptoms, but no remission periods.

How is MS diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine you. He will ask questions about your symptoms and when they started. He will ask if you have other family members with an autoimmune disease.

  • Lumbar puncture: A needle is used to remove a small amount of fluid from around your spinal cord.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your brain and spine. You may be given dye before the test to help your brain show up better in the pictures. Tell caregivers if you are allergic to dye, iodine, or seafood. Remove all jewelry, and tell caregivers if you have any metal in or on your body. Never enter an MRI room with metal. This can cause serious injury.
  • Evoked potential tests: This test measures how quickly and correctly your brain responds to certain stimulation such as sight, sound, or touch.

How is MS treated?

There is no cure for MS. Your caregiver will treat your MS based on your symptoms.

  • Steroid medicines: These medicines may shorten the period of time that symptoms last. These medicines also ease inflammation (swelling) in your joints and muscles.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy prevents the immune system from attacking your body. This helps increase the time between relapses.
  • Chemotherapy: This medicine is used to treat cancer but also may be used to treat MS. Chemotherapy temporarily shuts down the immune system and may change the course of MS.
  • Rehabilitation: This program may include mental and physical exercises. These exercises may help improve or maintain your ability to continue doing tasks that are important to daily living.
  • Other medicines: Certain medicines may be used to control and decrease MS symptoms. Medicines can be used to treat symptoms such as muscle cramps and bladder or bowel problems.

What are the risks of MS?

Treatments for MS may cause unpleasant side effects. Ask your caregiver for information about the side effects of the medicines you take. If MS is not treated, you may have trouble moving or walking. This may lead to paralysis, pressure sores, or infections. You may also become blind. Your health, quality of life, and ability to function may decline.

Where can you find more information?

  • Multiple Sclerosis Association of America
    706 Haddonfield Road
    Cherry Hill , NJ 08002
    Phone: 1- 856 - 488-4500
    Phone: 1- 800 - 532-7667
    Web Address:
  • National Multiple Sclerosis Society
    733 Third Avenue
    New York , NY 10017
    Phone: 1- 800 - 344-4867
    Web Address:

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You are so depressed you feel you cannot cope with your illness.
  • You have new symptoms that last more than 24 hours.
  • Your MS symptoms get worse for more than 24 hours.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek help immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You are so depressed you feel like hurting yourself.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.