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MS is a chronic disease of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Three factors appear to have an influence on developing MS: genetic predisposition, environmental factors such as geographical location, and a trigger, such as a virus.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

MS is a progressive and unpredictable immune-mediated disease of the central nervous system that disrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body. The severity of the disease and its symptoms vary from person to person. The cause of MS is unknown and although there are treatments that can slow disease progression, at this time there is no known cure.

How It Manifests

The nerve fibers in the central nervous system are protected and made more effective by a fatty substance, myelin, which helps the nerve fibers conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain. MS produces injury in the central nervous system when the immune system mistakenly attacks myelin. Areas of myelin damage are known as plaques, or lesions, and these eventually fill in with scar tissue. The name multiple sclerosis means “many scars.” MS can also cause destruction of the entire nerve.


The damage from lesions disrupts the transmission of nerve impulses from the central nervous system to the rest of the body causing a variety of signs and symptoms. MS has periods when the disease is quite active known as exacerbations, flares or relapses. During flares, symptoms can be more pronounced, but usually subside and sometimes go away.

  • Visual Loss

  • Fatigue

  • Pain

  • Numbness & Tingling

  • Bladder Incontinence

  • Bowel Dysfunction

  • Weakness

  • Memory Problems

  • Balance Difficulties

  • Sexual Dysfunction

  • Depression

  • Spasticity

Who Gets It

  • MS is most commonly diagnosed in young adults. Eighty percent of MS patients develop MS between the ages of 16 and 45.

  • Women are more frequently diagnosed with MS by at least 2 to 1.

  • MS is the leading cause of disability in young women and the second leading cause of disability in young men.

  • MS is more common among Caucasians than Blacks, Hispanics or Asians and has often been considered a disease that predominantly affects those of Northern European decent.

  • The worldwide prevalence is 2.7 million and over 400,000 Americans have been diagnosed with the disease. The incidence of MS is higher North of the 38th parallel. 

What It Costs

MS has a significant emotional and physical impact on the quality of life of those who have it as well as their families. Seventy percent of people living with MS have a level of impairment from the disease that interferes with at least one essential daily task.


  • After 10 years of disease, seventy percent of people with MS will not be working outside the home.

  • After 15 years, fifty percent will require at least a cane to walk.

  • Thirty percent will eventually need to use a wheelchair.


Because individuals are diagnosed and become symptomatic during their most productive years, the financial cost for the individual and for society can be staggering. Direct costs are high. The medications used to treat MS cost between $20,000 and $30,000 per year and the cost for treatment of a disease flare-up is estimated at $12,870. MS also has high indirect costs— from lost wages to under or unemployment. The direct and indirect costs of MS are now estimated at $57,500 per patient per year. The total lifetime costs associated with MS for an individual is estimated at $2.2 million.

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