Consumer Health: Treating MS

a medical illustration of the nerve damage caused by multiple sclerosis (MS)

MS Awareness Week is observed March 7–13, which makes this a good time to learn more about multiple sclerosis, or MS.

MS is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. With MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers, and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause the nerves to deteriorate or become permanently damaged.

Signs and symptoms of MS can differ greatly from person to person and over the course of the disease, depending on the location of affected nerve fibers. Some people with severe MS may lose the ability to walk independently or at all, while others may experience long periods of remission without any new symptoms.

Most people with MS have a relapsing-remitting disease course. This means that they experience periods of new symptoms or relapses that develop over days or weeks, and usually improve partially or completely. These relapses are followed by quiet periods of disease remission that can last months or even years.

MS can occur at any age, but onset usually occurs between 20 and 40. Women are more than two to three times as likely as men are to have relapsing-remitting MS, and white people, particularly those of Northern European descent, are at highest risk of developing MS. People of Asian, African or Native American descent have the lowest risk.

There is no cure for MS. Treatment typically focuses on speeding recovery from attacks, slowing the progression of the disease and managing symptoms. Several lifestyle strategies also can relieve symptoms of MS.

Here’s what you need to know about treating MS.

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