MS Facts

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system, which interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. The disease is thought to be triggered in a genetically susceptible individual by a combination of one or more environmental factors. Although MS is thought by some scientists to be an autoimmune disease, others disagree because the specific target of the immune attack in MS has not yet been identified. For this reason, MS is referred to as an immunemediated disease.

Who gets MS?

Anyone may develop MS but there are some patterns. Two to three times more women than men have been diagnosed with MS. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, although an estimated 8,000–10,000 children under the age of 18 also live with MS, and people as old as 75 have developed it. Studies suggest that genetic factors may make certain General Information | 2 individuals more susceptible than others, but there is no evidence that MS is directly inherited. MS occurs in most ethnic groups, including AfricanAmericans, Asians and Hispanics/ Latinos, but is more common in Caucasians of northern European ancestry.

How many people have MS?

An estimated 2.3 million people live with MS worldwide. These numbers can only be estimated – in the absence of formally reported data – because MS disease activity can occur without a person being aware of it and symptoms may be completely invisible. At the present time, MS incidence and prevalence are not consistently tracked and reported in the U.S. as there is no government requirement to do so. 

What are the typical symptoms of MS?

MS can cause extreme fatigue, impaired vision, problems with balance and walking, numbness or pain and other sensory changes, bladder and bowel symptoms, tremors, problems 3 | Just the Facts with memory and concentration, mood changes and more. Symptoms of MS are unpredictable; they can vary from person to person, and from time to time in the same person. For example: one person may experience abnormal fatigue and episodes of numbness and tingling, while another could experience loss of balance and muscle coordination making walking difficult. Still another could experience slurred speech, tremors, stiffness and bladder problems. These problems may be permanent or may come and go. Major symptoms sometimes disappear completely, and the person regains lost function. In severe MS, people have permanent symptoms that might include partial or complete paralysis and difficulties with vision, cognition, speech and bowel and bladder function.

Living with MS