Multiple sclerosis (MS) can happen to just about anyone.
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The central nervous system disorder affects your brain and spinal cord. But it spares the nerves and muscles that lead away from the spinal cord. Nearly 350,000 people in the United States have MS.
MS is a long-term illness. Infection-fighting white blood cells enter the nervous system and cause injury by stripping off the myelin sheath that protects nerves. When this happens, the nerves cannot conduct electricity as well as they should. This causes symptoms.
MS varies from person to person
There’s no standard set of symptoms. But many people with MS report:
- Numbness or tingling in various parts of the body
- Walking difficulties
- Weakness of one or more body parts
- Blurred vision, and occasionally, double vision
- Lhermitte’s phenomenon, a symptom in which people feel tingling down their back, arms or legs when they bend their neck forwards
- Urinary symptoms, such as hesitancy when trying to urinate, or a frequent urge to urinate
There is no way to predict which symptoms one person might develop. Symptoms can come and go over time or get worse over time.
Here are five things you need to know about MS from Mary Rensel, MD, a neuro-immunologist with Cleveland Clinic’s Neurological Institute at Hillcrest Hospital and Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis.
- Symptoms can be well-managed. “Although MS cannot be cured, we can do many things to manage symptoms,” Dr. Rensel says. “Medications, for example, can manipulate the immune system to reduce symptoms. These drugs are administered in the form of injections and pills and are very tolerable.”
- Most people with MS live a normal life span, as it is not a fatal disease.
- Symptoms can completely disappear. Some patients who lose function can regain it.
- Not everyone experiences paralysis. In fact, many people with MS retain the ability to walk years after diagnosis.
- Many people with MS have families, are not disabled, and continue to work.