What is multiple sclerosis?

CNN —  

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the central nervous system and is considered an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks its own healthy cells. It affects quality of life and can be disabling.

There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, which is often called MS, but many people are able to manage their symptoms and adapt to new lifestyles after diagnosis.

What causes multiple sclerosis?

The disease begins when a person’s immune system attacks the coverings of nerve fibers throughout the body. These protective nerve sheaths are called myelin, and they assist with the communication of nerves.

When myelin is destroyed, it exposes the nerves, slowing communication between these cells. The signs and symptoms are related to how much damage has been done. Researchers believe that the disease is the result of both environmental and genetic factors, but the underlying cause is not known.

Whom does multiple sclerosis affect?

There are several risk factors associated with multiple sclerosis that may put people at an increased risk, according to the National Library of Medicine.

It more commonly occurs in Caucasian women between the ages of 20 and 40. Although multiple genes are suspected to play a role in the the risk of multiple sclerosis, the inheritance pattern is unknown.

However, other factors can be changed to potentially reduce risk, such as quitting smoking and getting adequate levels of vitamin D. Studies show that smokers have 1.5 times the risk of developing multiple sclerosis than nonsmokers.

What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?

As the disease inflames the optic nerve, a condition known as optic neuritis, pain and loss of vision in the affected eye can result. This can be the first sign of multiple sclerosis, or it can show up later.

Other symptoms include double vision, lethargy, loss of bladder and bowel function, muscle stiffness, numbness and weakness of the extremities, and depression. Another symptom is called Lhermitte’s sign, an electric shock-like pain felt when the neck is moved.

How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?