Defining MS

Symptoms, Diagnosis, Progression and Types of MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system, in which the body’s own immune system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord and eyes. Damage to myelin creates scar tissue (sclerosis), which interferes with the way nerve signals are transmitted.

The types of symptoms, their severity and how the disease progresses can differ greatly from one person to another. Symptoms may include extreme fatigue, tingling, numbness, weakness, difficulty walking, poor coordination, impaired vision, slurred speech, tremors, stiffness and bladder problems.

Unlike most other neurological diseases that affect older people, MS tends to be diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. Of the more than 400,000 people in the United States with MS, two-thirds to three-fourths are women. MS is not a fatal disease, but it can be disabling.

“Finding the underlying causes of MS will enable us to provide better treatment and, hopefully, someday lead us to a cure,” says Timothy West, MD, Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Program at Cleveland Clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

There are four types of MS:
  1. Relapsing-remitting MS: About 85 percent of patients have this type of MS, which causes disease flares (relapses) followed by periods of partial or total recovery (remission).The majority of medications slow (modify) this type of MS.
  2. Primary-progressive MS: Approximately 10 percent of patients have this form of MS, which slowly worsens over time. Although the disease may occasionally plateau, remissions do not occur. There are no effective medications for this type of MS, but new medications are being tested in clinical trials.
  3. Secondary-progressive MS: Some patients with relapsing remitting MS eventually stop having remissions, and their disease begins to grow steadily worse. New MS medications may prevent this from occurring in many patients.
  4. Progressive-relapsing MS: The small numbers of patients with this form of MS experience a steady worsening of their disease, punctuated by relapses. Unlike relapsing-remitting MS, their condition continues to decline between relapses.

The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health provides comprehensive care for patients with all four types of MS.

To make a gift supporting the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the Neurological Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit our secure giving site or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.

Related Links

Cleveland Clinic Mobile Site