Multiple sclerosis

What causes multiple sclerosis?

Studies suggest that there are many factors that influence whether a person will develop multiple sclerosis (MS). The factors that contribute to its onset are multiple and may vary from person to person. The signs and symptoms of MS occur as a result of inflammation, loss of the protective nerve covering (myelin), and the breakdown of nerve cells.

The most widely accepted theory is that MS begins as an autoimmune disorder, where white blood cells (lymphocytes) attack healthy tissues. Later, signs and symptoms occur as a result of abnormal activity of specific cells in the brain and spinal cord (microglial cells) and progressive injury and loss of brain and spinal cord cells.

Additional theories regarding the cause of MS include chronic viral infections and genetic disease. Although many viruses, and particularly the Epstein-Barr virus, have been associated with MS, there is no specific evidence linking viruses directly to the development of MS. Still, Epstein-Barr virus infection is considered a risk factor for the disease. Certain gene changes, including ones in HLA-DRB1 are associated with an increased risk for developing multiple sclerosis. However, it is unclear exactly what role these gene changes play in the development of MS. Having a first-degree relative with MS, like a parent or sibling, does increase a persons risk for the condition (to around 2%). Learn more about gene changes and MS.

Vitamin D is another area of interest. Those who are exposed to more sunlight tend to have higher levels of naturally-produced vitamin D, which is thought to support the immune function and may help protect against immune-mediated diseases like MS.

Further information on the cause of MS is available at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Web site.

Last updated on 05-01-20

How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) may be similar to those of many other nervous system disorders. The disease is made based on the person's signs and symptoms and is typically diagnosed by ruling out other conditions.

"Dissemination in time and space" are commonly-used criteria for diagnosing the relapsing-remitting form of MS (RR-MS). "Dissemination in time means" that there are at least two clinical attacks, each lasting at least 24 hours, separated by at least one month, or a slow, step-wise progressive course for at least six months. "Dissemination in space" means that there are lesions in more than one area of the brain or spinal cord. For primary progressive MS (PP-MS), there are currently no diagnostic criteria that are universally accepted.

Physicians may do many tests to evaluate an individual suspected of having MS.

  • Neurological Exam: May show reduced nerve function in one area of the body or over many parts of the body. This may include abnormal nerve reflexes, decreased ability to move a part of the body, decreased or abnormal sensation, and other loss of nervous system functions.
  • Eye Exam: May show abnormal pupil responses, changes in the visual fields or eye movements, decreased visual acuity, problems with the inside parts of the eye, and rapid eye movements triggered when the eye moves.
  • Other Tests: Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) for cerebrospinal fluid tests, MRI scan of the brain, MRI scan of the spine; nerve function study; and several of blood tests. The Revised McDonald Criteria, published In 2010 by the International Panel on the Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, include specific guidelines for using MRI, visual evoked potentials (VEP) and cerebrospinal fluid analysis to speed the diagnostic process.

Last updated on 05-01-20

Other Conferences

Outcomes Database in Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy for Autoimmune Diseases

Outcomes Database in Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy for Autoimmune Diseases, April 19, 2013 - April 20, 2013
Location: Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI
Description: The aim of this NIH workshop is to break the stalemate and facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration by creating functional clinical research teams on the national level who can then create a momentum for progress in this area of substantial unmet need and high promise. The CIBMTR infrastructure, which is currently cancer-focused, can be easily adapted to collect AID-specific data

Last updated on 04-27-20

Press Releases

Multiple sclerosis - Research Matters - Genes

On August 13, 2007, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) posted an article titled Genes Linked to Multiple Sclerosis , which discusses 2 genes that influence the risk of developing multiple sclerosis. Click on the name of the article to read more.

Last updated on 04-27-20

Name: Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis 460 Totten Pond Road Suite 140
Waltham , MA, 02451, United States
Phone: +1-781-487-0008 Fax : +1-781-487-0009 Email: Url:
Name: Multiple Sclerosis Association of America 375 Kings Highway North
Cherry Hill, NJ, 08034, United States
Phone: +1-856-488-4500 Toll Free: 1-800-532-7667 Fax : +1-856-661-9797 Email: Url:
Name: Multiple Sclerosis Foundation 6520 North Andrews Avenue
Fort. Lauderdale, FL, 33309-2132, United States
Phone: +1-954-776-6805 Toll Free: 1- 888-MSFOCUS (673-6287) Fax : +1-954-351-0630 Email: Url:
Name: National Multiple Sclerosis Society 733 Third Avenue, 6th Floor
New York, NY, 10017-3288, United States
Phone: +1-212-986-3240 Toll Free: 1-800-344-4867 Fax : +1-212-986-7981 Email: Url:
Name: American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) 22100 Gratiot Avenue
Eastpointe, MI, 48021, United States
Phone: 586-776-3900 Toll Free: 800-598-4668 Fax : 586-776-3903 Email: Url:

Note, these links are external searches against the National Laboratory of Medicine's drug database. You may need to adjust the search if there are no results found.

Drug Name Generic Name
Ozobax baclofen
Ampyra dalfampridine
Avonex Interferon beta-1a (recombinant human)
Betaseron Interferon beta-1b
Copaxone® Glatiramer acetate
Lioresal® (injection) baclofen

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