What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease where the immune system attacks the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves) and is referred to as an immune-mediated disease. As the immune system attacks the nervous system, the myelin that protects the nerve fibers of the nervous system is damaged and scar tissue is formed (sclerosis). As the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is destroyed, the impulses that travel on that nerve are distorted or interrupted. This produces the variety of symptoms that occur, which can range from numbness in the limbs to paralysis or vision loss. Currently, it is thought that the disease is triggered in a genetically susceptible person by a combination of one or more environmental factors.

There are four courses that people with MS can experience:

  1. People with relapsing-remitting MS experience clearly defined relapses of worsening neurologic function. The relapses are followed by periods of partial or complete remissions (no disease progression occurs at this time).
  2. People with primary-progressive MS experience slowly worsening neurologic function from the beginning. They do not experience distinct relapses or remissions. The progression of primary-progressive MS varyies over time.
  3. People with secondary-progressive MS begin with an initial period of relapsing-remitting MS, but over time the disease worsens more steadily. This progression may or may not include occasional flare-ups, minor remissions, or plateaus.
  4. Progressive-Relapsing MS is a rare course of MS (5%). People who experience this course find the disease steadily worsening from the beginning. However, they experience clear relapses along the way; yet may or may not experience some recovery. This course continues to progress without remissions.

Each person with MS will experience the disease in a different way. Some of the most common symptoms of MS include fatigue; numbness; walking, balance, & coordination problems; bowel and/or bladder dysnfunction; dizziness and vertigo; sexual dysnfunction; pain; cognitive diysfunction; depression and emotional changes; and spasticity. Less common symptoms of MS include speech disorders, swallowing problems, headaches, hearing loss, seizures, tremors, respiration problems, and itching. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your medical care professional right away. 

There are several organizations that provide resources and information to people with MS, including:

  1. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society provides resources, advocacy, a multimedia library, and an online community for people with MS.
  2. The Multiple sclerosis Foundation provides resources, information, and community for people with MS.

What research is being done?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), along with other institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is conducting research in the laboratories at NIH. NINDS is currently conducting two clinical trials in relation to MS. Check their clinical trials page frequently for updated information.

The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) has several projects that deal specifically with MS. These projects include:

  • Multiple Sclerosis Rehabilitation Research and Training Center. Project Number: H133B080025. This project's comprehensive research program includes such areas as improved medical and community interventions and improved employment outcomes. (This project has completed its funded activities.)
  • Development of an Intelligent Assistive Robotic System for Individuals with Multiple Sclerosis. Project Number: H133G120275. This project is researching and implementing two variants of a motion control paradigm for an intelligent assistive robotic arm that is relevant to the needs of users with MS. 

We ran a search in REHABDATA and found several articles of current research on MS. These articles include:

  • Exercise barriers and preferences among women and men with multiple sclerosis. NARIC Accession Number: J65936.
  • Falls in people with multiple sclerosis who use a walking aid: Prevalence, factors and effect of strength and balance interventions. NARIC Accession Number: J65873.
  • Self-reported depression and physical activity in adults with mobility impairments. NARIC Accession Number: J65889.

For more information, you can visit NINDS. Or you can conduct searches in our Knowledgebase, in REHABDATA, or in the NIDILRR Program Directory.