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Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic often disabling disease of the central nervous system. In young adults, it is one of the most common central nervous system diseases.

Sclerosis are "scars" such as plaques or lesions in the brain and spinal cord. Multiple Sclerosis  is a progressive disease in which scattered patches of the protective myelin sheath covering of the nerve fibers in the brain and spine (the central nervous system) are damaged or destroyed.

Myelin is a fatty material around nerves that acts like the insulation around electrical wires. When the myelin sheath is damaged, the electrical impulses along the nerves are disrupted. This disruption affects many functions of the body.

Symptoms may be mild (e.g., numbness in the limbs) or severe (e.g., paralysis or loss of vision). 

The progress, severity and specific symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are giving hope to those affected by the disease.

Who Gets Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis affects women 50% more than men or, if you prefer ratios, 3 to 2.

Most people with Multiple Sclerosis are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.  Multiple Sclerosis is rarely found in people younger than 12 or older than 55.

Multiple Sclerosis is more common among Caucasians than other races. This is particularly true with those of Northern European ancestry). In some populations, such as eskimos, Multiple Sclerosis is practically unheard of.

Multiple Sclerosis is more common farther from the equator. Some studies have reported that Multiple Sclerosis is as much as five times more likely in North America and Europe than in the tropics.

Within the U. S., a "dividing line" runs along the 37th parallel, from Newport News, Virginia, to Santa Cruz, California, along the northern border of North Carolina, the northern border of Arizona and across the top part of California. Below the 37th parallel the Multiple Sclerosis is 57 to 78 cases per 100,000 people; above the 37th parallel is almost double that: 110 to 140 cases per 100,000 people.

How Many People Have Multiple Sclerosis

There are approximately one third of a million Americans with Multiple Sclerosis, and every week some 200 people are diagnosed with the disease. That is more than one person an hour. Across the world, about 2.5 million people have the disease.

How Can I Catch Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is not contagious. You cannot "catch" Multiple Sclerosis.

Is Multiple Sclerosis Hereditary?

Studies indicate that genetic factors may make certain individuals more susceptible to the disease, but there is no evidence that Multiple Sclerosis is directly inherited.

Is Multiple Sclerosis Fatal?

No. Multiple Sclerosis is not a fatal disease and individuals can be expected to have normal or near normal life expectancy. In fact, the majority of people with Multiple Sclerosis do not become severely disabled. Two-thirds of people with Multiple Sclerosis are able to walk with or without the use of aides and continue to lead productive and satisfying lives.

However, although the life span is not significantly affected by multiple sclerosis, the unpredictable physical and emotional effects of multiple sclerosis can be lifelong.

Can Multiple Sclerosis Be Cured?

There is are no drugs or treatment protocols that can cure Multiple Sclerosis. There are currently treatments which can modify the course of the disease no cure yet. However, research is ongoing to find both effective means of preventing and arresting the disease, as well as developing better ways of treating those who have Multiple Sclerosis. In recent years there have been advances on many fronts. Treatments have been developed that reduce the number and severity of relapses in some people with Multiple Sclerosis. In addition, there are therapies to relieve many symptoms and improve the quality of life of people with Multiple Sclerosis.

How Can Multiple Sclerosis Be Diagnosed?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is currently the most definitive tool for diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis. A new MRI technique called "Turbo FLAIR" is particularly useful.

(MRI is better able to "see" damaged nerves than CAT scans.)

However, because other disease may cause the same symptoms as Multiple Sclerosis, there is not a single laboratory test, symptom, or physical finding which, when present or positive, always means a person has Multiple Sclerosis.

Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis generally relies on two accepted criteria:

  1. Two distinct attacks at least one month apart. An attack (also exacerbation, flare, or relapse) is the sudden onset or worsening of Multiple Sclerosis symptoms lasting at least 24 hours.
  2. More than one area of demyelination: damage to the myelin sheath surrounding nerves. In addition, there must not be indications of any other diseases that can cause demyelination.

What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?

We do not yet know what causes Multiple Sclerosis. However, scientific research has uncovered a number of candidates:

  • Trauma
  • Genes
  • environment
  • Viruses
  • Immune System

What Role Might Trauma Play?

The role of trauma with Multiple Sclerosis is a controversial subject. It has been largely based on both anecdotal reports or information gathered based on patient memories. Controlled studies were few to none.

A study, published in 1991 ((Sibley, W. A., et. al., Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, V54, pp 584-9) and conducted at the University of Arizona, concluded that except for electrical injuries, there was no evidence of a direct relationship between traumatic injury and a Multiple Sclerosis exacerbation.

(exacerbation is the term for a Multiple Sclerosis flare-up, attack or manifestation of symptoms.)

A second study, published in 1993 (Siva, A., et. al., Neurology, V43, pp 878-82), and conducted confirmed the Arizona study findings.

Although both studies found more traumatic events among Multiple Sclerosis sufferers than in healthy people, the traumas were not precipitating factors in the disease.

What Role Might Genes Play?

Multiple sclerosis is not hereditary. There is evidence, however, that having a parent or sibling (also called a first-degree relative) with Multiple Sclerosis substantially increases the probability of developing the disease.

Studies indicate higher prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis among certain racial groups (e.g., Northern Europeans) and almost no Multiple Sclerosis among other groups (e.g., eskimos).

There are theories that Multiple Sclerosis develops within a person who is born with a genetic predisposition to the disease or with a genetic predisposition to react to some external, environmental agent.

The National Multiple Sclerosis website has more information on the role of genetics in Multiple Sclerosis at www.nationalmssociety.org/sourcebook-genetics.asp.

What Role Might environment Play?

As noted above, geography plays a role in the statistical occurrence of Multiple Sclerosis. Studies of migration patters (and a boatload of other factors) seem to indicate that people who are born in a high risk are and move to a low risk area, "acquire" the lower risk if they move before the age of 15.

This suggests that there may be some environmental agent and that exposure to this agent before puberty may play a factor in the development of Multiple Sclerosis.

What Role Might Viruses Play?

We know that viruses can cause demyelination (removal of myelin from the nerves) and inflammation of the nerves. The theory is that a virus might be either the cause, or perhaps a trigger, for Multiple Sclerosis.

More than a dozen viruses including measles, canine distemper, and herpes (HHV-6) have been studied.

At this time, there is no definitive links between viruses and Multiple Sclerosis.

The National Multiple Sclerosis website has more information on the role of viruses in Multiple Sclerosis at www.nationalmssociety.org/sourcebook-viruses.asp.

What Role Might the Immune System Play?

The most commonly accepted theory about Multiple Sclerosis is that it is an auto-immune response. That is, that somehow the body's immune system, instead of fighting a foreign infection, directs the "attack" against the central nervous system (CNS).

The "target" of the attack (the antigen that the immune system locks onto) has not been identified.

Research has been able to identify:

  • which immune system cells are performing the attack,
  • how they are activated or sensitized to attack, and
  • some of the "receptors" on the attacking cells that seem to be involved.

Research continues on the possibility of stopping this abnormal response without interfering with normal immune cells.

The National Multiple Sclerosis website has more information on the role of the immune system and the autoimmune response in Multiple Sclerosis at www.nationalmssociety.org/sourcebook-autoimmune.asp.

What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?

The initial symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis typically include:

  • difficulty in walking
  • abnormal sensations including numbness and "pins and needles"
  • eye pain and loss of vision.

Other initial symptoms include:

  • tremor
  • lack of coordination
  • slurred speech or other speech effects
  • sudden onset of paralysis (may seem similar to a stroke)
  • a reduction in the ability to think, reason, and remember

The Multiple Sclerosis community distinguishes among:

  • Primary symptoms: the direct result of the disease,
  • Secondary symptoms: complications that arise as a result of the primary symptoms, and
  • Tertiary symptoms: the social, occupational, psychological and spiritual  complications of the disease.

Primary Symptoms

Multiple Sclerosis involves demyelination: the destruction of the fatty myelin sheath that surrounds nerve fibers and insulates them like the insulation around wires. The loss of myelin results in disruption of the nerve impulses to the body. Symptoms include:

  • numbness,
  • tremors,
  • weakness,
  • loss of balance and coordination
  • loss of vision
  • dizziness and vertigo
  • difficulty swallowing
  • pain, including eye pain and headache
  • paralysis
  • seizures
  • bladder and bowel disfunction
  • hearing problems
  • itching
  • sexual disfunction

Secondary Symptoms

examples include:

  • Urinary tract infections resulting from bladder disfunction
  • Muscle weakness and imbalances from lack of muscle use and inactivity
  • Bedsores

Tertiary Symptoms

examples include:

  • Loss of livelihood because are the disability (inability to walk or inability to operate a car)
  • Relationship problems due to the strain of chronic illness and due to sexual disfunction
  • Depression

Does Multiple Sclerosis Always Progress the Same?

No. Each person's experience is different. The course of the disease is completely unpredictable.

In some people the disease has only minimal impact. In other people it progresses very rapidly to total disability.

Despite these unique progressions, researchers (in their obsessive/compulsive drive to categorize observations) have identified four major 'groupings" of the disease:

  • Benign  (20%)
  • Relapsing-remitting  (25%)
  • Secondary progressive  (40%)
  • Primary progressive  (15%)


The characteristics are:

  • One or two attacks with complete recovery
  • No progression over time
  • No permanent disability

It is not possible to identify this form of Multiple Sclerosis until after the fact because the symptoms are a lack of progression. At the onset of this type of Multiple Sclerosis, it would have been identified as relapsing-remitting.


The characteristics are:

  • Unpredictable attacks (i.e., relapses), followed by
  • Partial or total recovery (i.e., remission)

The attacks (more formally called exacerbations) can last days or months. The recovery periods may be months or years. Ten to fifteen years without an attack are required for the disease to be considered in complete remission.

Secondary progressive

The characteristics are:

  • Initially relapsing-remitting,
  • Followed by progressive disability later in the disease

Primary progressive

The characteristics are:

  • A lack of distinct attacks,
  • Slow onset,
  • Steadily worsening symptoms.

The accumulation of disability may eventually level off or may continue to worsen.

How Is Multiple Sclerosis Treated?

Again, there is no cure (yet).

However, treatment protocols address four primary areas of the disease:

  • Reducing the effects on an "attack"
  • Addressing long term symptoms
  • Slowing the progress of the disease
  • Minimizing the impact of the disease

Reducing the effects of an attack

The most common therapy for an attack, also called an exacerbation, is the use of steroids. Steroids reduce the swelling and permit more rapid healing.

Addressing long term symptoms

Long term symptoms (e.g., fatigue, bladder and sexual dysfunction, depression) can be addressed with medications and therapies, many of which are not specific to Multiple Sclerosis.

Slowing the progress of the disease

Research continues on drugs that might be effective in slowing the progress of the disease. Two drugs being investigated include (a) Beta Interferon and (b) Copolymer 1.

Minimizing the impact of the disease

Areas of therapy include:

  • Physical therapies
  • Mental therapies
  • Social therapies
  • Spiritual therapies


Sources for this FAQ includes the websites of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of America, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, the International MS Support Foundation, and Imaginis.net. The information is believed to be accurate. However, individuals should not rely on this information for diagnosis or treatment of disease.

Multiple Sclerosis Pages On My Site

Multiple Sclerosis and MeMultiple Sclerosis and My Life: Information about how Multiple Sclerosis has affected me and why I decided to create these pages. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

Multiple Sclerosis LinksMultiple Sclerosis Links and Resources: A boatload of links. Wazillions of links. And a few more. But . . . Even though there are many links here, these are not all the links. Be sure to check the other sections for the specialty links. 

Local and Non-US OrganizationsLocal and Non-US Organizations: Includes state by state listings of local organizations, including the chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 

Chat, Forums and eMail Discussion Groups 

Commercial Sites and Commercial JournalsCommercial Sites and Commercial Journals 

General Medical Sites and Other ResourcesGeneral Medical Sites and Other Resources: Not specifically related to Multiple Sclerosis, but offering general medical information. Many feature search engines to locate Multiple Sclerosis information or Multiple Sclerosis sections within their site. 

Personal StoriesPersonal Stories: Personal websites featuring the webmaster's personal experience with Multiple Sclerosis. Most also include some links to other Multiple Sclerosis resources. 

Who Are the People With Multiple Sclerosis?Books: Books about Multiple Sclerosis (like you really needed that description). 

Who Are the People With Multiple Sclerosis?Who Are the People With Multiple Sclerosis?: A moving essay by Virginia Sanchez (used with permission). 

Multiple Sclerosis and ChildrenMultiple Sclerosis and Children: Special information about MS in children and why I hope to honor them with my site.

Who Are the People With Multiple Sclerosis?Guest Article: Social Security and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) - Applying for Social Security Disability with Multiple Sclerosis: A guest article by John Dowling, the Senior editor of Social Security Disability Help. 

Who Are the People With Multiple Sclerosis?Guest Article: Stem Cells Showing Great Promise in Remyelinization: A guest article by Daryl Clayton Kennedy. 


A Measure of Time - My Life With MSA Measure of Time - My Life With MS: This book by Lauren Singer is available directly from the author. This page on my site provides a tiny amount of publicity for this book. By the way, her dog is named Fred Huggins.    

As for Tomorrow I Cannot Say: 33 Years with Multiple SclerosisAs for Tomorrow I Cannot Say: 33 Years with Multiple Sclerosis: I review this book by Diana Neutze.    

Life on Cripple Creek - Essays on Living with Multiple SclerosisLife on Cripple Creek - essays on Living with Multiple Sclerosis: I review this book by Dean Kramer.    

My Story: A Photographic Essay on Life with Multiple SclerosisMy Story: A Photographic essay on Life with Multiple Sclerosis: I review this book by Amelia Davis.    

When the Road Turns - Inspirational Stories About People with MSWhen the Road Turns - Inspirational Stories About People with MS: I review this book by Margot Russell.    

A Special Note If You Jumped Into My Site
Directly to This Page

This topic is just a part of my overall website. After you check out this topic, you might like to explore the rest of my site and get to know me better.  I recommend that you start with my "Home" Page, then go to the "Front Door", then to "Stuff About Me" and finally, just explore the site. The buttons on the left will take you there.

If You Would Like to Link to My Multiple Sclerosis Pages

Many webmasters only want people to link to the "primary" page of a website. I have a different view.

Because of the importance of Multiple Sclerosis to me I actually encourage other Multiple Sclerosis sites to link directly to my Multiple Sclerosis pages. Click here to find out my special requests for linking to my Multiple Sclerosis pages.


The following awards were awarded specifically for the
James S. Huggins' Refrigerator Door: Multiple Sclerosis Pages.

Outstanding Website Award

sponsored by
Disability Network

Outstanding Website Award 1999
awarded 25.Oct.1999
by the Disability Network
  Winners List with my award listed and a link back to my site.

Editor's Choice Award from HealingWell.com

editor's Choice Award
awarded 26.Oct.1999
by HealingWell.com

Facing Challenge Award

Facing Challenge Award
awarded 30.Oct.1999
by Facing Challenge Award
  Winners List with my award listed and a link back to my site.

Helping Hands Award from Living With Multiple Sclerosis

Helping Hands Award
awarded 15.Nov.1999
by Living With Multiple Sclerosis
  Winners List with my award listed and a link back to my site.

Directory Links

This section of my site (James S. Huggins' Refrigerator Door: Multiple Sclerosis Pages), is listed in the following directories.

Good Health Directory

Good Health Directory
linked 20.Mar.2000


linked 26.Oct.1999
(see also editor's Choice Award above)

Member of Internet Health Library

linked 21.Aug.2000

A HealthLinks Select Site

linked 02.Feb.2001

A MedExplorer Selected SIte

linked 02.Feb.2001


This website is accredited by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information of the Health On the Net Foundation: you can verify that here.

Certified Medinex Health Site

This site was a Medinex Certified Health Site and subscribed to the Medinex Code of ethics.

[NB: The above links point to an archive previous page. hosted by the
Internet Archive Wayback Machine. The assets of Medinex were sold in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy sale in March 2003. The site is no longer functional.]

Disclaimer:  I am not a licensed or trained health care provider. I'm just a guy who cares (bunches) about Multiple Sclerosis and who spends (too much) time on the net. I provide the medical information on this website for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a health care provider's care and consultation. Please consult your health care provider about any opinions or recommendations with respect to your own symptoms and conditions. Any treatment or nutritional product mentioned on this site is not intended or claimed to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please advise me of any errors or omissions you detect. I receive no funds from any medical products companies. And, I fully disclose all other product affiliations on the Disclaimers, Copyrights and Other Legal Stuff page on this site.

The extra text menu links (previously here) are being removed in the site redesign.
Browser and search engine improvements have eliminated the motivation/necessity for them.

This page created:
Wed, 10.May.2000

Last updated:
16:17, Sat, 10.May.2014

. . .


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