Multiple Sclerosis: introduction

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and disabling disease that usually starts in young adulthood and is 2-3 times more common in women than men. It results from damage to nerve cells in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).

The causes of MS are not fully understood, though viral infections (for example with the Epstein-Barr virus), smoking and specific genetic markers have been associated with increased risk. MS is generally more common in countries in the Northern hemisphere and in areas further away from the equator and low levels of vitamin D have been associated in some studies with an increased risk of the condition.

MS usually causes alternating episodes of disability and recovery, but in many cases this progresses to permanent disability. MS sufferers may experience fatigue, muscle weakness, difficulties walking, numbness or tingling and problems with bladder control including urinary incontinence. Life expectancy may be reduced.

There is no curative treatment available but some drugs (such as beta-interferon or glatiramer acetate) may modify the course of the disease.