Multiple Sclerosis

Illustration of the body's nervous system

What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a life-long chronic disease of the central nervous system. It affects mainly young women (ages 20 to 50) and is an unpredictable condition that can range from being relatively benign to being totally disabling. Some people with MS may be mildly affected while others may lose their ability to write, speak, or walk. The problem occurs due to multiple areas of inflammation and scarring (sclerosis) in the central nervous system. When this happens, communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted. About 250,000 to 350,000 people in the US have MS.

What causes multiple sclerosis?

Although the cause of MS is not known, some of the causes of MS currently under investigation include the following:

  • viruses
  • autoimmune disorders
  • environmental factors
  • genetic factors

What are the symptoms of MS?

Symptoms of MS are erratic and may be mild or severe. It is common to have an attack followed by a period of recovery - this is called exacerbations and remissions. Other times, symptoms are progressive and may appear in various combinations, depending on the area of the nervous system affected.

Initial symptoms of MS may include:

  • blurred or double vision
  • red-green color distortion
  • pain and loss of vision due to optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve)
  • difficulty walking
  • paresthesia (abnormal sensation or pain, such as numbness, prickling, or "pins and needles")

Other symptoms of multiple sclerosis may include any/all of the following (to a varying degree):

  • muscle weakness in the extremities
  • difficulty with coordination (impaired walking or standing may result; partial or complete paralysis is possible)
  • spasticity (increased muscle tone leading to stiffness and spasms)
  • fatigue
  • loss of sensation
  • speech problems
  • tremor
  • dizziness
  • hearing loss

About 50 percent of all people with MS experience cognitive impairments related to their disease. The effects of these impairments may be mild or severe and may include difficulty with any of the following:

  • concentration
  • attention
  • memory
  • poor judgment

Rehabilitation for people with MS:

A rehabilitation program for people with MS is designed to meet the needs of the individual patient, depending upon the type and severity of the symptoms and the amount of impairment. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of the program.

The goal of MS rehabilitation is to help the patient to return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall quality of life - physically, emotionally, and socially.

In order to help reach these goals, MS rehabilitation programs may include the following:

  • exercises and activities to help improve motor skills, restore activities of daily living (ADLs), and help the patient reach maximum independence
  • exercises that promote muscle strength, endurance, and control
  • management of bowel or bladder control
  • use of assistive devices such as canes, braces, walkers
  • methods to improve communication skills for patients who have difficulty speaking
  • cognitive retraining
  • vocational counseling
  • adapting the home environment for ease of function, safety, accessibility, and mobility
  • patient and family education

The MS rehabilitation team:

Rehabilitation programs for patients with MS can be conducted on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Many skilled professionals are part of the rehabilitation team, including any/all of the following:

  • neurologist
  • physiatrist
  • internist and other specialists
  • rehabilitation nurse
  • dietitian
  • physical therapist
  • occupational therapist
  • speech/language therapist
  • audiologist
  • social worker
  • psychologist/psychiatrist
  • recreational therapist
  • case manager
  • chaplain
  • vocational counselor

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Call 877-RES-INFO for Nurse Advice, Doctor Referrals or Class Registration Monday - Friday 8 am to 8 pm • Weekends 8 am to 4:30pm