Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects an estimated 1 million people in the United States. It’s the most common neurological disease in young adults, usually developing between the ages of 20 and 40 — just when a person is often establishing a family and career.
It’s normal to feel upset and afraid upon hearing a diagnosis of MS. But the good news is that MS can usually be managed successfully with a combination of medication, a healthy lifestyle, and social support from friends, family, healthcare providers, and other people living with MS.
Knowing the facts about multiple sclerosis can help you understand what’s going on in your body and why your MS isn’t exactly like anyone else’s. It can inform the discussions you have with your doctor about how to best manage the disease. And it can help you explain to others what MS is and what it isn’t.
Take this quiz to assess your knowledge of MS — and maybe learn a few new things in the process.
1. Multiple Sclerosis Is an Autoimmune Disorder
True Most experts believe that MS is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the myelin sheath that normally protects nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly reacts against a self-antigen, which is a normal protein or cell marker that should not provoke such a response.
In the case of MS, researchers still don’t know what self-antigen triggers the immune system response. Some experts refer to MS as an “immune-mediated” disease but stop short of classifying it as an autoimmune disease.
2. Numbness, Tingling, Vision Changes, and Balance Problems Are Common Early Signs of MS
True Numbness and tingling, vision changes, and balance and walking problems are common early signs and symptoms of MS, but because many other conditions besides MS can also cause them, they are not always recognized as the beginnings of MS.
In fact, MS is often misdiagnosed as something else. According to a 2017 survey conducted by MultipleSclerosis.net, of the 5,311 people with MS who responded, 25 percent were initially diagnosed with depression, 15 percent with migraine, 14 percent with fibromyalgia, 13 percent with a psychiatric disorder, 11 percent with vitamin B12 deficiency, and 10 percent with chronic fatigue disorder.
It’s worth noting, however, that a person with multiple sclerosis can have other medical conditions besides MS at the same time as having MS.
3. Each Person With Multiple Sclerosis Has a Unique Pattern of Symptoms
True While some MS symptoms, such as fatigue, are very common and affect most people with the disease, each person with MS has a unique pattern and severity of symptoms.
To some extent, a person’s MS symptoms depend on where their lesions, or areas of damage, are located in the brain or spinal cord. But it’s also common for an MRI scan to show lesions that can’t be connected to any symptoms, or for symptoms to worsen without any new lesions appearing on an MRI scan.
A person’s symptoms can also be influenced by the drug therapy they’re using. If the disease-modifying therapy a person is using is working for them, they should not be acquiring new lesions and should not be developing new symptoms.