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What Does MS Mean?

There are a lot of different ways to talk about multiple sclerosis (MS). Below, you’ll find 2 explanations of MS. One is in everyday language, and the other is a little more scientific.

In Other Words

The cause of MS is currently unknown. It is generally believed that MS is an autoimmune disease. Normally, your immune system helps to fight foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. In an autoimmune disease, something triggers the immune system to attack itself.

In MS, your body attacks the fatty coating, called the myelin sheath, on nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and eye area. This causes scars to develop, which prevent the nerves from communicating as they should. This communication breakdown creates a range of symptoms from mild to severe, and from temporary to permanent.

No two people experience MS exactly the same way. Certain treatments, like disease-modifying therapies (DMTs), can help slow the progression of disability associated with relapsing MS, and the time between relapses varies greatly. Currently, there is no cure. People with MS have it for life.

Get some everyday tips for managing MS
Some Science

In people with MS, an immune response activates the production of T cells, which are a type of white blood cell. Once activated, the T cells start to multiply and cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to the brain and spinal cord.

T cells are thought to then begin a process that attacks and damages nerve cells in the central nervous system (CNS). These nerve cells are covered with a protective coating called myelin. Myelin acts as a conductor that helps signals move at high speeds from one end of the nerve cell to the other, allowing the nerve cells to communicate.

In MS, disease activity damages the myelin in a process called demyelination. Demyelination results in lesions that lead to a breakdown in signal transmissions. The symptoms of MS are a result of this communication breakdown. Disease activity can also damage the underlying nerve cells, which may lead to permanent symptoms and disability.


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This information is intended only for residents of the United States.

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