Multiple Sclerosis: The Symptoms, Risk Factors, And Treatments You Should Know


Get a better understanding of Multiple Sclerosis with this in-depth look at the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. It damages the protective nerve fibers called myelin that transmit signals within the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.

Multiple Sclerosis

This leads to disrupted communication between the brain and body, resulting in progressive physical and cognitive impairment over time.

Causes Of Multiple Sclerosis

While the exact cause is not known, MS likely results from some combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers like viruses that activate the immune system to attack the body’s own myelin.

This myelin breakdown leaves behind scar tissue called lesions. Women are affected 3 times more than men.

Here are details on some of the suspected causes and risk factors for developing multiple sclerosis:

Autoimmune response

The immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheaths surrounding and protecting nerve fibers. What triggers this is unknown.


No specific gene has been identified, but inherited traits make some people more susceptible. Having a close relative with MS increases your risk.

Viral or bacterial infection

Past infection with EBV or human herpesvirus 6 may activate autoimmunity. The bacteria Chlamydia pneumoniae has also been investigated.

Low vitamin D levels

Insufficient vitamin D has been associated with a higher incidence of MS. Vitamin D is thought to help regulate the immune response.


Women are affected up to 3 times more than men. Hormonal factors may play a role.


MS most often occurs between ages 20-40.


MS is more common in colder climates further from the equator. Less sun exposure and low vitamin D may be related.


Smoking cigarettes elevates the risk of getting MS. Quitting after diagnosis helps slow progression.

Early Signs And Symptoms

Some early symptoms of MS may include:

  • Vision problems – Blurred or double vision, eye pain, vision loss
  • Numbness and tingling – Pins-and-needles sensation, reduced sensation, or numbness in the face, body, arms, or legs
  • Muscle weakness – Feeling heavy or weak in the arms or legs, leg dragging when walking
  • Coordination issues – Lack of balance, dizziness, impaired coordination
  • Slurred speech – Unclear or slurred speech
  • Cognitive changes – Difficulty focusing, memory problems, impaired word finding
  • Bladder problemsUrinary urgency, frequency, incontinence
  • Pain – Unexplained neuropathy pain, painful muscle spasms
  • Fatigue – Debilitating exhaustion, tiredness, and lethargy
  • Depression – From coping with MS symptoms and disability

Symptoms vary greatly between individuals based on the location of nerve damage. Episodes may resolve partially or flare up unpredictably.

Diagnosis And Different Types  

MS is challenging to diagnose since many symptoms mimic other conditions. MRIs detecting nerve lesions, spinal fluid analysis, pharmacological testing, and ruling out disorders with similar features help confirm the diagnosis.

There are several MS types:

Clinically Isolated SyndromThe initial episode of symptoms.
Relapsing-Remitting MSThe steady progression of disability from the outset. 
Primary Progressive MSSteady progression of disability from the outset. 
Secondary Progressive MSEventual progression without remission.

Impact On Daily Life

MS symptoms like fatigue, mobility impairment, bladder dysfunction, pain, cognitive fog, and vision changes greatly reduce the quality of life over time.

Difficulties performing daily tasks lead to loss of independence. Depression is common. Supportive equipment, home modifications, physical/occupational therapy, and workplace accommodations help manage.

Available Treatment Approaches

While incurable, treatment can manage symptoms and modify the course of Multiple Sclerosis:

  • Immunotherapy drugs – Reduce severity and frequency of flare-ups.
  • Plasma exchange – Filters out antibodies attacking myelin.
  • Physical therapy – Maintains mobility and muscle function.  
  • Occupational therapy – Adapts activities for hand/vision issues.
  • Speech therapy – Treats swallowing disorders and slurred speech.
  • Cognitive rehab – Remediates attention, memory, and perceptual deficits.

Medications For Symptom Management

Medications that help manage MS symptoms include:

  • Muscle relaxants – Alleviate spasticity and cramping.
  • Pain relievers – Reduce painful spasms and neuropathic pain.
  • Fatigue management drugs – Treat exhaustion.
  • Bowel/Bladder medications – Control incontinence and urgency.
  • Antidepressants – Help mood, sleep disorders, and anxiety.
  • Steroids – Decrease acute symptom flare-ups short-term.


While incurable, support through a multidisciplinary healthcare team can help MS patients maintain quality of life through managing symptoms, slowing disease progression, and adapting activities. Medications, rehabilitation, and lifestyle adjustments help cope with the profound impact MS has on daily function. Continuing research offers hope.


1. What is the life expectancy after an MS diagnosis? 

Life expectancy is 5-10 years lower on average. However, improvements in treatment and management continue to extend survival.

2. Can MS symptoms come and go?

Yes, relapsing-remitting MS involves acute symptom flares followed by periods of remission and stability. Symptoms progressively worsen over time

3. Is MS considered a disability?

Yes, MS is recognized as a physical disability when functional impairments from symptoms limit daily living capacity.

4. Is MS hereditary?

Not directly, but having a close family member with MS raises your risk 2-5x. Certain genes make developing MS more likely.  

5. Is MS fatal?

MS itself doesn’t directly cause death in most cases, but complications like infections, pneumonia, and pulmonary embolism reduce life expectancy.

Dr. Jun Ren is a dedicated and experienced registered dietitian and nutritionist who is committed to helping people achieve their health goals through personalized nutrition plans. With a passion for promoting healthy eating habits and preventing chronic diseases, Dr. Ren has been able to assist numerous clients in improving their overall quality of life.

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