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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Multiple Sclerosis
      Category : Health Centers > Brain and Nervous System

Multiple Sclerosis

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a lifelong autoimmune disorder that can cause severe disability. An autoimmune disorder is one in which the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissue. People with MS produce antibodies that attack the white matter in the brain and spinal cord.

What is going on in the body?

In multiple sclerosis, the myelin, or coating of nerve fibers, becomes inflamed in the brain and spinal cord. The inflammation damages the myelin, and signals cannot be passed along to the nerve.

About 70% of the individuals with MS have what is called the relapsing-remitting, or RR type, of MS. They have periodic relapses, or episodes where symptoms worsen. These relapses are followed by remissions, which involve partial or full relief from symptoms. The remaining 30% of people with MS have chronic, progressive disease. Although there are several subgroups, most individuals with chronic, progressive disease have a disease course that worsens steadily over time.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

The cause of multiple sclerosis is not known. There are four major scientific theories about the cause of MS:

  • Environmental. Worldwide, MS seems to be more common around the 40th parallel in the Northern and Southern hemispheres and is more prevalent in northern Europe. A person who is born in one of these areas but moves to another area before adolescence has a lower risk of developing MS.
  • Genetic. Having a parent or sibling with MS significantly increases a person's risk of MS.
  • Immunologic. It is generally accepted that multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder.
  • Viral. It is possible that a viral infection can trigger MS.
  • Some neurologists believe that MS develops because a person is born with a genetic predisposition to react to an environmental agent. When that person comes into contact with the agent, the contact triggers an autoimmune response that causes MS.


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    Multiple Sclerosis: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Gerald C. McIntosh, MD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 08/27/01

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