7 Surprising Facts About Multiple Sclerosis

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Chris Illiades, MD on January 20, 2021
  • Man with coffee
    Revealing Clues and Truths About Multiple Sclerosis
    Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common nervous system disease and a common cause of disability in young adults. It's also a surprising disease. Did you know most people with MS live as long as people without MS? Or, that most people with MS lead active and productive lives? If you want to know more about MS disease, start with these seven facts—they might surprise you.
  • Woman throws a punch
    1. Your own body causes MS.
    MS is an autoimmune disease. That means your body’s defense system—your immune system— attacks your nervous system by mistake. Your immune system normally protects you from foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria. With MS, your immune system launches attacks against the protective covering of nerve fibers in your brain and spinal cord. These attacks cause hard scars (sclerosis) that interfere with nerve signals.
  • Patient and doctor
    2. MS is treatable.
    There is still no cure for MS, but there are good treatment options. Today's drugs include ones that can reduce MS attacks and the damage they cause. MS medicines are disease-modifying drugs. Until 2010, people with MS could only get this type of drug by injection. Now there are oral medications to choose from. There are also drugs that can treat the symptoms of MS, like muscle spasms, weakness, and fatigue.
  • Running in the snow
    3. MS is more common in cold climates.
    Here's one of the unsolved mysteries of MS: The farther from the equator you live, the more likely you are to have MS. If you live in a warm sunny area near the equator, your risk of developing MS is lower than if you live in the United States or Canada. If you were born in a warm and sunny part of the world and you move to a colder climate as a child, your risk of MS goes up. Anyone can get MS, but it is most common in people of Northern European ancestry.
  • Woman in the sun
    4. Vitamin D may lower your risk of MS.
    Low levels of vitamin D may be a risk factor for MS. One reason MS is less common in sunny parts of the world may be vitamin D. Your body produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun. So, people who live in sunny climates usually make more vitamin D. This vitamin may help regulate the immune system. If you have MS, taking vitamin D may reduce MS symptoms and attacks. One recent study found vitamin D may help repair the protective covering (myelin) of nerves that MS damages.
  • Pregnant woman
    5. MS gets better during pregnancy.
    In the 1950s, women with MS were often advised to not get pregnant. Doctors thought pregnancy made MS worse. Now, though, many studies show it usually makes MS better. Pregnancy is like having a foreign invader inside your body. To protect the little invader, the body naturally shuts down some of its immune response. In turn, MS symptoms may improve. Also, women with MS are not more likely than other women to have pregnancy complications.
  • Man on laptop
    6. MS may affect more mind than body.
    Most people associate symptoms like weakness, numbness, or stiffness with MS. However, people with MS often say the most bothersome symptoms are the mental ones. These symptoms—called cognitive changes— affect up to three-fourths of people with MS. Cognitive changes make it harder to think clearly and quickly. In fact, cognitive symptoms— not physical ones— are often the reason people with MS stop working.
  • Family
    7. MS is not an inherited disease.
    You may have heard that MS genes pass down through families. That's true. But, you only inherit the risk for the disease, not the disease itself. Something needs to trigger these genes to cause MS. Only 15% of people with MS have a family history of the disease. The identical twin of a person with MS has just a one-in-three chance of having MS, even though the two have the exact same genes. Finding the triggers for MS genes is a big area of research and may help with preventing MS disease or lessening its effects.
7 Surprising Facts About Multiple Sclerosis
  1. Multiple Sclerosis. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Multiple-Sclerosis-Information-Page
  2. MS the Disease. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/About-the-Society/Press-Room/MS-the-Disease
  3. Research News and Progress National Multiple Sclerosis Society,. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Research/Research-News-Progress
  4. Living With Advanced MS. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Resources-Support/Living-with-Advanced-MS
  5. Who Gets MS (Epidemiology)? National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Who-Gets-MS
  6. New Study Supports Evidence That Vitamin D Plays a Role in Myelin Repair. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/About-the-Society/News/New-Study-Reports-Evidence-that-Vitamin-D-Pl...
  7. Pregnancy and Reproductive Issues. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Family-and-Relationships/Pregnancy
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 20
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.