Heading Off Migraine Pain NINDS Multiple Sclerosis Information Page
Source: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a life-long chronic disease diagnosed primarily in young adults. During an MS attack, inflammation occurs in areas of the white matter of the central nervous system (nerve fibers that are the site of MS lesions) in random patches called plaques. This process is followed by destruction of myelin, which insulates nerve cell fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Myelin facilitates the smooth, high-speed transmission of electrochemical messages between the brain, the spinal cord, and the rest of the body. Symptoms of MS may be mild or severe and of long duration or short and appear in various combinations. The initial symptom of MS is often blurred or double vision, red-green color distortion, or even blindness in one eye. Most MS patients experience muscle weakness in their extremities and difficulty with coordination and balance. Most people with MS also exhibit paresthesias, transitory abnormal sensory feeling such as numbness or "pins and needles." Some may experience pain or loss of feeling. About half of people with MS experience cognitive impairments such as difficulties with concentration, attention, memory, and judgment. Such impairments are usually mild, rarely disabling, and intellectual and language abilities are generally spared. Heat may cause temporary worsening of many MS symptoms. Physicians use a neurological examination and take a medical history when they suspect MS. Imaging technologies such as MRI, which provides an anatomical picture of lesions, and MRS (magnetic resonance spectroscopy), which yields information about the biochemistry of the brain. Physicians also may study patients’ cerebrospinal fluid and an antibody called immunoglobulin G. No single test unequivocally detects MS. A number of other diseases produce symptoms similar to those seen in MS.

Is there any treatment?
There is as yet no cure for MS. Until recently, steroids were the principal medications for MS. While steroids cannot affect the course of MS over time, they can reduce the duration and severity of attacks in some patients. The FDA has recently approved new drugs to treat MS. The goals of therapy are threefold: to improve recovery from attacks, to prevent or lessen the number of relapses, and to halt disease progression.

What is the prognosis?
The cause of MS remains elusive, but most people with MS have a normal life expectancy. The vast majority of MS patients are mildly affected, but in the worst cases, MS can render a person unable to write, speak, or walk.

What research is being done?
Scientists are looking into the body’s autoimmune system, infectious agents, and genetics as culprits in MS. Studies into these areas strengthen the theory that MS is the result of a number of factors rather than a single gene or other agent. Studies use a technique called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to visualize the evolution of MS lesions in the white matter of the brain. Studies have shown that MS has no adverse effects on the course of pregnancy, labor, or delivery; in fact, the stabilization or remission of symptoms during pregnancy may be attributable to changes in a woman’s immune system that allows her to carry a baby.

The National Academies/Institute of Medicine, a Federal technical and scientific advisory agency, recently prepared a strategic review of MS research. Read or download the National Academies/Institute of Medicine report, "Multiple Sclerosis: Current Status and Strategies for the Future."


Clearinghouse on Disability Information
Switzer Bldg., Rm. 3132
330 C Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20202-2524
Tel: 202-205-8241
Fax: 202-401-2608

International Multiple Sclerosis Support Foundation
9420 East Golf Links Road
PMB# 291
Tucson, AZ 85730-1340
Fax: 520-579-9473

International Essential Tremor Foundation
P.O. Box 14005
Lenexa, KS 66285-4005
Tel: 913-341-3880 888-387-3667
Fax: 913-341-1296

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America
706 Haddonfield Road
Cherry Hill, NJ 08002
Tel: 856-488-4500 800-532-7667
Fax: 856-661-9797

Multiple Sclerosis Foundation
6350 North Andrews Avenue
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309
Tel: 954-776-6805 888-MSFocus (673-6287)
Fax: 954-351-0630

National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC)
4200 Forbes Boulevard
Suite 202
Lanham, MD 20706-4829
Tel: 301-562-2400 800-346-2742
Fax: 301-562-2401

National Ataxia Foundation (NAF)
2600 Fernbrook Lane
Suite 119
Minneapolis, MN 55447-4752
Tel: 763-553-0020
Fax: 763-553-0167

National Multiple Sclerosis Society
733 Third Avenue
6th Floor
New York, NY 10017-3288
Tel: 212-986-3240 800-344-4867 (FIGHTMS)
Fax: 212-986-7981

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 1968
(55 Kenosia Avenue)
Danbury, CT 06813-1968
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

Well Spouse Foundation
63 West Main Street
Freehold, NJ 07728
Tel: 800-838-0879 732-577-8899
Fax: 732-577-8644

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
801 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006-3517
Tel: 202-USA-1300 (872-1300) 800-424-8200
Fax: 202-785-4452

Related NINDS Publications and Information

Multiple Sclerosis: Hope Through Research
An informational booklet on Multiple Sclerosis from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Esclerosis Múltiple: Esperanza en la Investigación
A Spanish-language public information booklet on multiple sclerosis/Informacion de la Enfermadad de Esclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis and Chemokines: Prospects for Therapeutic and Prophylactic Intervention
Health Disparities Working Group Meeting: Cognitive and Emotional Health Multiple Sclerosis and Chemokines: Prospects for Therapeutic and Prophylactic Intervention

Brain Produces New Cells in Multiple Sclerosis
February 2002 news summary on brain repair in multiple sclerosis.

NINDS Notes for June 2000
Lay-language descriptions of new program announcements and clinical trials seeking patient volunteers.

NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Provided by:
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892