Multiple Sclerosis - Man's brain nerves

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the protective covering of nerve cells (myelin) of the brain, spinal cord, and/or eyes.

This impairs nerve signaling and causes a wide variety of potential symptoms, such as: 

  • Muscle weakness
  • Spasticity
  • Pain
  • Cognitive issues

The precise cause of MS is unknown. The disease is often diagnosed with the help of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a spinal tap, or both. So far, there's no cure, but you do have multiple options for treating, managing, and coping with this disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes multiple sclerosis?

    Multiple sclerosis symptoms are caused by your immune system mistakenly destroying the myelin sheath on the nerves, which impairs their function. Researchers are still trying to determine what leads to the autoimmune reaction, but sound theories include infectious disease, vitamin D levels, and a combination of genetics and environmental factors.

  • Is multiple sclerosis genetic?

    Experts suspect that certain genetic combinations increase your risk of developing multiple sclerosis. They’ve identified several genes that appear to be linked to the disease. If you have a parent or sibling who has it, you’re more likely to develop it. However, it’s far from guaranteed—a parent raises your risk from 0.13 to 2% and a sibling raises it to 5%.

  • Is multiple sclerosis fatal?

    Multiple sclerosis is rarely fatal. Some people with this disease may have a lifespan that’s slightly shorter than average, but it’s increased over time due to better treatments. Most people with multiple sclerosis live long lives and die of unrelated causes, like heart disease or cancer.

  • How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?

    Multiple sclerosis is diagnosed using a variety of tests, including:

    • Neurological exam
    • Evoked potential test (to evaluate nerve response)
    • MRI of the brain and/or spinal cord
    • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
    • Tests to rule out other potential causes of symptoms

    Diagnosing this disease can be difficult. Symptoms can be subtle and many are shared by other medical conditions.

Key Terms
Pensive senior woman
Late-Onset MS: Diagnosis After 50
Nurse explaining MRI results
Gadolinium Enhancing Lesions in Multiple Sclerosis
Patient comforted by doctor
Common Reasons for Not Taking MS Disease-Modifying Therapy
Female neurologist discusses brain scan with patient
Balo Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment
An MRI scan of a brain with multiple sclerosis.
CCSVI in Multiple Sclerosis
Woman in bed looking ill
Why Epstein-Barr Virus Is Linked to MS
Mature woman with head in hands and eyes closed, close-up
How Migraine and Multiple Sclerosis May Be Connected
Young woman pushing an older woman in a wheelchair through a park
Advanced MS: Symptoms and Complications
Doctor checking MRI images on tablet PC
What Is the Link Between Transverse Myelitis and Multiple Sclerosis?
muscular pain
How Your Muscles Are Affected in MS
Headaches are a symptom of both fibromyalgia and MS.
Comparison of Fibromyalgia and MS
Angry young woman on the phone at the window
Emotional and Psychological Symptoms in Multiple Sclerosis
Doctor and patient using digital tablet in office
Differences Between Lupus and MS
Senior Caucasian woman rubbing her hands
ALS and Multiple Sclerosis: Similarities and Differences
Senior woman visiting optician.
Vision Problems Caused By MS
Man having pain on his side
The MS Hug: Understanding Girdle-Band Pain
elderly woman with hands covering face
Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML): Symptoms, Treatment, and More
headache
Headaches in MS: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatments
woman experiencing vertigo
Vertigo in MS: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
MRI scans of a brain showing multiple sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis: Signs, Symptoms, and Complications
Heat Can Trigger MS Symptoms
How Heat Affects Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
Old hands help
Tremor as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis
Older woman coughing into her hand
Multiple Sclerosis and Breathing Problems
Doctor checking woman's ear
Hearing Problems and Multiple Sclerosis
Joint pain is a symptom of MS.
Hip and Knee Pain in Multiple Sclerosis
Muscle Stiffness and MS
Muscle Spasticity and Stiffness as a Symptom of MS
cognitive dysfunction and ms
Cognitive Impairment in MS: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment
Low angle view of a businessman suffering from a headache
MS, Optic Neuritis, and Vision Problems
Man in wheelchair cutting fruit
Multiple Sclerosis and Swallowing Problems (Dysphagia)
man flushing toilet
Bladder Dysfunction in MS: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treament
Physical therapist doing a neurological exam with a young boy.
The Romberg Test: Measuring Balance Impairment in MS
Couple consulting with doctor
The Link Between MS and Erectile Dysfunction
Woman laughing in restaurant
Pseudobulbar Affect in MS: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Senior woman complaining to her doctor about her tonsils
Speech Problems in Multiple Sclerosis: How to Cope
A neurologist examines a brain scan.
Dysdiadochokinesia in MS: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Distressed looking man sitting on hospital bed, head in hand, night
Restless Legs Syndrome and MS: Symptoms and Treatment
Man having pain on his side
What Does MS Pain Feel Like?
Neurology slide show
Seizures and Epilepsy in Multiple Sclerosis
Two women looking at each other
Dysphonia and Other Speech Problems in MS
Feet in socks being warmed by a fire in a brick fireplace.
Cold Feet as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis
Bare Feet of a Young Woman on Blue Bed
Hot Feet in MS: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Mouth Numbness Can Be An Unpleasant Symptom of MS
Mouth Numbness as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis
Female doctor explaining report to patient on digital tablet in clinic
Paroxysmal Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Senior woman standing touching hand
Numbness and Tingling as Symptoms of MS
man scratching head
Itchiness as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis
Physical therapist working on woman's leg
Muscle Twitches: MS and Other Possible Causes
Man with back pain
Low Back Pain in Multiple Sclerosis: Causes and Treatments
Trigeminal Neuralgia and MS
Trigeminal Neuralgia in MS: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment
Constipated man
Constipation in MS: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
man in pain laying down
Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope
Human brain model and stethoscope on background of brain waves f
How the Cerebellum Is Affected in MS
Man in wheelchair
Peripheral Neuropathy and MS: How They Differ
Section through a human brain
MS Brainstem Lesions and Their Impact
Man suffering from primary progressive multiple sclerosis standing near steps
Primary Progressive MS: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment
Hyperacusis in a woman with multiple sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis and Hyperacusis
Woman drying hair standing at bathroom vanity
Uhthoff's Phenomenon: Heat and Multiple Sclerosis
Opening pill case
Aphasia in Multiple Sclerosis: Causes and Symptoms
elderly woman with hand pain
Dysesthesia in MS: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Serious Woman Having Consultation With Male Doctor In Hospital Office
Genetics of Multiple Sclerosis
A woman with progressing-relapsing MS using an electric scooter
Progressive-Relapsing MS: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Disorders of the Immune System.