Multiple Sclerosis

1M

people in the U.S. are living with multiple sclerosis.

20-50

Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least 2-3 times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease.

200

new cases of MS are diagnosed each week in the United States.

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions occur when the body’s immune system mistakes its own tissues for foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. The confused immune system springs into action, seeking out to destroy the “invaders” in the tissues. 

In the case of multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the fatty substance that protects your nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. This attack results in nerve damage, which can slow signals that travel along the nerve fiber and cause problems with vision, balance, muscle control, and more. [1]

Who is affected?

Anyone can be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but it is more common in women than men. [2] Women are also more likely than men to have a relapsing form of multiple sclerosis, which means your symptoms flare up and then stabilize in episodes. [3] The condition is generally diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. [4] 

Doctors aren’t sure about what causes multiple sclerosis, but believe that a combination of genetics and environment are responsible. [1] Other factors like climate, smoker status, and other medical conditions may influence your level of risk as well.

What happens in your body?

Common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include: [1] [5]

  • Numbness, weakness, or tingling in one or more limbs, typically on one side of your body at a time
  • Lack of coordination and difficulty walking
  • Vision problems such as blurred vision, partial or complete vision loss, pain during eye movement, or prolonged double vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with sexual, bowel, or bladder function

Not everybody has the same symptoms, and not all individuals with multiple sclerosis have the same severity of the condition. Experiences of the condition also depend on which nerve fibers in the body are most affected in each individual.

Some people have what is called primary-progressive multiple sclerosis, which is when symptoms gradually and steadily arise. But most people have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, which is when symptoms develop over a few days or weeks and then disappear for months or years. [1] Up to 70 percent of people with relapsing-remitting MS eventually develop secondary-progressive MS, which involves a steady progression of symptoms, sometimes with and sometimes without periods when these symptoms disappear (also called remission). [1]

How do I know if I have MS?

It is important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible to make sure that the condition does not worsen. The best way to do this is by visiting your doctor and, if possible, getting a referral to visit a neurologist, a doctor with specialized training in treating multiple sclerosis. 

No one test can diagnose multiple sclerosis, but some ways that your doctor can assess whether you have the condition is through assessing your medical history, and conducting a physician examination, blood tests, spinal tap, MRI, and evoked potential tests.

How is it treated?

There is no known cure for MS, but integrative interventions have shown to reduce pain and discomfort and improve quality of life by slowing the condition’s progression and easing the severity of symptoms. [6]

Integrative interventions offer a holistic approach to treatment. Instead of just conventional medicine, integrative treatments combine conventional medicine with nutritional tools, mind-body medicine, and manual medicine for a holistic approach to treating MS. 

For those new to integrative medicine, learn more here

Conventional Medicine

Many people with multiple sclerosis find that certain medications work for them and others do not. So, in order to find an effective conventional treatment, people with multiple sclerosis often work with their doctors to determine which medication works best with their body and needs. 

With the right medication, it is possible to manage symptoms like inflammation and prevent the rapid worsening of the condition. Before starting to take any medication, be sure to ask your doctor about possible side effects. And if you notice any of the side effects once you start your treatment, let your doctor know as soon as possible. 

Examples of conventional treatments:

  • Glucocorticoids (also known as corticosteroids) are steroid drugs that can be taken by mouth or injection, and are meant to start working immediately to reduce nerve inflammation caused by MS. [1]

  • Fingolimod (brand name: Gilenya) is an oral medication that can reduce the rate of relapse. [1]

  • Amantadine (brand names: Gocovri, Oxmolex) is an oral medication that can help reduce fatigue caused by MS. [1]

  • Dalfampridine (brand name: Ampyra) is an oral medication that can increase walking speed in some people living with MS. [1]

  • Ocrelizumab (brand name: Ocrevus) is an infusion treatment, injected into the vein, which can reduce the rate of relapse for MS patients. [1]

  • Beta interferons (sometimes called interferon betas) are an injectable medication, inserted into the skin or muscle, which can reduce how often and severe your relapses are. [1]

Mind-Body Medicine

Research shows that gentle, low-intensity mind-body treatments can help MS patients with mobility, mood, decreased pain, and more. There are a wide variety of mind-body treatments for multiple sclerosis, ranging from deep breathing to aqua-therapy.

When living with chronic pain, engaging in regular movement and exercise may feel difficult and unnecessary. But doing so can actually improve your symptoms.

Before starting a physical exercise regimen, consult with your doctor about what might be the best activities for you and your body.

Examples of mind-body medicine:

  • Tai chi, a mind-body exercise that originated from China, incorporates slow, gentle movements with breathing exercises. Research conducted by the Hartford Hospital found that tai chi brings emotional wellbeing, improved strength, and improved balance to individuals with chronic pain.

  • Yoga comes in many different styles, often engaging both the body and the mind through controlled breathing and stretching. A study conducted by researchers of the American Academy of Neurology demonstrated that patients with multiple sclerosis who participated in yoga classes or exercise classes showed significant improvement in fatigue.

  • Aquatic exercises such as swimming and water aerobics strengthen your core. A study found that aquatic exercises contributed significantly to increasing joint flexibility and reducing pain for individuals with rheumatic diseases.     

  • Weight management and healthy nutritional intake are key in reducing health risks. A study found that a healthy diet can help maintain the nutritional status and health of people with multiple sclerosis.

  • Stress and multiple sclerosis are closely connected to each other. A study demonstrated that mindfulness programs produced significant improvements in anxiety, depression, cognitive psychosocial abilities, and overall functioning.

Manual Medicine

Manual treatments are administered by certified clinicians, using physical pressure and stimulation on the body to reduce lupus symptoms. Treatments can vary in intensity and incorporate other elements such as heat and aromatherapy to enhance relief. 

Examples of manual medicine:

  • A widely-adopted Chinese treatment administered by certified acupuncturists who insert very thin needles at strategic points on the body to support overall wellness. A University of Pittsburgh study found that multiple sclerosis patients who received acupuncture had improvements in pain management. 

  • Licensed massage therapists use different techniques, like shiatsu, hot stone, and Swedish massage, to provide temporary pain relief.  A study conducted by researchers in Canada found that patients with multiple sclerosis had improvements to wellbeing due to their massage therapy.

  • Physical therapy can help with physical strengthening, mobility, and overall functionality. A study conducted by researchers in Germany found that physical therapy techniques have the potential to improve multiple sclerosis patient needs and individual outcome.

  • Osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, is a form of manual therapy used by osteopathic physicians (DOs). A study from the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that multiple sclerosis patients who received osteopathic manipulation had significant improvements in fatigue and depression.

Nutritional Tools

Nutrition plays a crucial role in your overall health, and is a tool you can use to combat joint damage, reduce inflammation, and manage other multiple sclerosis symptoms. 

Just like with conventional, mind-body, and manual medicines, there is not one ideal treatment for every MS patient. When selecting nutritional tools to treat your condition, it is best to consult with your doctor or work with a dietitian, naturopath, or nutritionist to find out the best diet for you.

Examples of nutritional tools:

  • Anti-inflammatory diets

    • Anti-inflammatory diets include nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants and intend to reduce inflammation in the body. A condensed review conducted by researchers in South Africa found that dietary components could be used to obtain beneficial outcomes for multiple sclerosis patients.

  • Plant-based diets

    • Vegetarian and vegan diets have shown to promote gut health, which may have an anti-inflammatory impact. A study found that low-fat, plant-based diets showed significant improvements in fatigue management.

  • Elimination diet

    • While some foods can help reduce symptoms, other foods may trigger them. An elimination diet, which is an eating plan that eliminates certain foods or food groups believed to be causing negative bodily reactions, can help you figure out which foods are triggering those symptoms and bring you closer to your ideal diet.

  • Fish

    • Research suggests that eating fish may reduce joint inflammation for those with rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Fruits and vegetables

    • Fruits and vegetables have antioxidants, which support your immune system and may fight inflammation.

  • Nuts

    • Nuts are rich in healthy fat, protein, and fiber, and help fight inflammation.

  • Beans

    • Beans (like red, pinto, navy, and black beans) are rich in fiber and protein, and are full of both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Olive oil

    • This heart-healthy ingredient contains healthy fat, antioxidants, and oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory compound.  

  • Onions

    • These simple, flavor-rich vegetables are packed with antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and help control cholesterol levels.

  • Fiber

    • Fiber is found in foods like beans, whole grain breads, and fresh vegetables. It makes you feel fuller for longer and boosts digestive health. It also may help reduce inflammation.

  • Fish oils

    • Fish oils may reduce inflammation. A study found that there patients with rheumatoid arthritis who consumed dietary fish oil as part of their diet reported ideal and improved health status.

  • Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)

    • Gamma linolenic acid is mostly found in plant seed oils like borage seed, evening primrose, and blackcurrant seed oil.     

  • Turmeric

    • Turmeric is a spice from the turmeric plant that has anti-inflammatory properties. A study indicated that turmeric can be used as a source for alleviating chronic pain.

  • Folic acid

    • Folic and folinic acid supplements have been shown to improve liver function and ease gastrointestinal intolerance (the digestive system’s difficulty processing certain foods, which can lead stomach pain and bloating). 

  • Vitamin D

    • Vitamin D supplements are good for bone health, and they can also help keep the immune system functioning properly. A systematic review on research exploring the benefit of vitamin D on chronic pain found that vitamin D supplementation was able to improve pain levels.

  • Antioxidants

    • Antioxidants can help prevent cell damage. A study from the Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery found that antioxidants may improve quality of life and reduce pain.

  • Probiotics

    • Probiotic supplements may help improve gut health and even lead to lower levels of inflammation. A systematic review found that probiotics could improve immune and inflammatory systems, with efficient effects in the management of multiple sclerosis.

  • Pomegranate

    •  A study demonstrated that the antioxidant quality of pomegranates may ease symptoms such as tender joints. 

  • Green tea extract

    • A University of Michigan study showed that green tea extract may help reduce overall joint inflammation and damage.

  • [1] Multiple sclerosis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350269. Published June 12, 2020. Accessed July 24, 2020. 
  • [2] Dilokthornsakul P, Valuck RJ, Nair KV, Corboy JR, Allen RR, Campbell JD. Multiple sclerosis prevalence in the United States commercially insured population. Neurology. 2016;86(11):1014-1021. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000002469 
  • [3] Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Types-of-MS/Relapsing-remitting-MS. Accessed July 24, 2020. 
  • [4] Who Gets MS? National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Who-Gets-MS. Accessed July 24, 2020. 
  • [5] MS Symptoms. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms. Accessed July 24, 2020. 
  • [6] Halabchi F, Alizadeh Z, Sahraian MA, Abolhasani M. Exercise prescription for patients with multiple sclerosis; potential benefits and practical recommendations. BMC Neurol. 2017;17(1):185. Published 2017 Sep 16. doi:10.1186/s12883-017-0960-9 
  • [7] Koskie, B. (2020, August 21). Multiple Sclerosis: Facts, Statistics, and You. Retrieved September 12, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/facts-statistics-infographic 
The information on this page is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or health provider for your specific needs.