What Is Multiple Sclerosis? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Medically Reviewed

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a disease of the central nervous system that can cause symptoms throughout the body. Most experts believe it is an autoimmune condition, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues in the body.

In the case of MS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath that normally protects nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. The underlying nerve fibers can also be damaged or destroyed in this attack.

As the attack progresses, the myelin sheath becomes inflamed and gradually is destroyed, leaving areas of patchy scar tissue (sclerosis) that disrupt the electrical impulses between the brain and other parts of the body.

The term “multiple sclerosis” refers to the multiple areas of scar tissue — often called “lesions” — that develop along affected nerve fibers and that are visible in MRI scans. The literal meaning of “sclerosis” is “pathological hardening of tissue.”

The lesions caused by MS, and the resulting disruption of nerve impulses throughout the body, are what cause most of the symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis.

Common Questions & Answers

How does multiple sclerosis begin?
No one knows exactly how multiple sclerosis begins, but most doctors think it starts when an environmental cause, such as a virus, triggers an autoimmune attack in a person who is genetically susceptible to MS. As the autoimmune attack inflames areas of the myelin sheath protecting the nerve fibers, symptoms of MS arise.
What are the early signs and symptoms of MS?
Vision problems and eye pain are common early symptoms of MS. Others include numbness or tingling of the fingers, face, or other parts of the body; difficulties with balance and walking; and sensitivity to heat, which may show up as feeling dizzy, faint, or unusually uncomfortable in warm temperatures or in a warm shower or bath.
What effects does MS have on your body?
MS affects each person’s body differently, depending on where it causes lesions, or nerve damage, in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. Most people with MS have fatigue. Many have balance difficulties, numbness, muscle spasticity, and bladder problems. Some people have thinking and memory problems because of MS.
Can MS ever go away on its own or with treatment?
No, MS does not go away on its own. Disease-modifying drugs can reduce relapses and slow the overall progression of the disease. Stem cell transplants have also begun to show promise in slowing or stopping progression. Rarely, a person's MS is "benign" and progresses very little after the initial symptoms. But most people's MS worsens over time.
Can a person die from multiple sclerosis?
Most people with MS do not die from it, although some studies suggest it shortens life expectancy by six or seven years. What can kill people with MS are complications of the disease, including lung infections (pneumonia) and sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection. Cardiovascular diseases are also a major cause of death of people with MS.

Types of Multiple Sclerosis

Scientists have long described different types of MS, the most common being relapsing-remitting MS, primary-progressive MS, and secondary-progressive MS. But in recent years there’s a growing consensus that these are not distinct types of MS, but rather points along a continuum. At some points, inflammation is the predominant characteristic of the disease, while at others, neurodegeneration — in which old injuries to the brain and spinal cord worsen — predominates.

Nonetheless, most people with MS are still diagnosed with a particular type of the disease.

Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)

This type of MS is characterized by periods of active inflammation in the central nervous system, during which symptoms worsen (and new symptoms may develop), alternating with periods when symptoms are less acute.

The times when symptoms worsen are known as relapses, flares, or exacerbations. As a relapse ends, the severity of symptoms diminishes, but a person can be left with new, permanent symptoms.

The quiet periods between relapses are called remissions. Remissions may last for months or years before a relapse occurs.

RRMS is the most common type of MS — estimates vary, but between 80 and 90 percent of people with MS are diagnosed with this relapsing-remitting course of the disease, and most people with RRMS eventually develop secondary-progressive MS.

Learn More About Relapsing-Remitting MS

Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS)

This type of MS is generally considered a second phase of RRMS, in which there is symptom progression and increased disability. People with SPMS may continue to have relapses, although they may be less frequent than in RRMS.

Most people who are diagnosed with RRMS will eventually transition to SPMS, but each person’s experience with it — whether or not they have relapses and how much progression, or disease worsening, occurs — will be unique.

Learn More About Secondary-Progressive MS

Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS)

In PPMS there is no initial relapse that signals the beginning of the disease. Instead, MS symptoms gradually appear over time.

Those who have PPMS generally do not experience acute exacerbations or have distinct remissions, but they may have temporary plateaus during which symptoms lessen somewhat.

About 15 percent of people with MS are diagnosed with PPMS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). (1)

Learn More About Primary-Progressive MS

Benign MS 

A small percentage of people with MS have a benign form of the disease, in which symptoms progress very little over the course of a person's lifetime, after the initial attack.

There’s some controversy over how (or whether) to classify people with benign MS, since the progress of the disease can vary over a person’s lifetime, according to the NMSS.

Malignant MS

A small number of people with MS have malignant MS, which is marked by the rapid formation of lesions in the brain and spine, causing severe symptoms, disability, and possibly death.

Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

The nerve damage that occurs in MS can lead to a broad range of symptoms, depending on what part of the central nervous system has been attacked. MS can affect numerous areas of the brain, as well as the optic nerve — the nerve that transmits signals from the eye to the brain — and the spinal cord.

It’s often said that no two people with MS have exactly the same pattern of symptoms. In addition, an individual’s symptoms can change or fluctuate in severity over time.

Common Symptoms

Some common early symptoms of MS include visual problems, difficulties with balance and walking, numbness and tingling, and heat intolerance.

Other common symptoms include:

Uncommon Symptoms

Less common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:

In many cases, MS symptoms can be treated, sometimes with medication and sometimes with a form of rehabilitation, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, or cognitive therapy. People with MS who are depressed can often be helped by the same types of antidepressants, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes that are beneficial for depressed people who don’t have MS.

Even when treatment can’t alleviate an MS symptom entirely, it can often reduce its severity.

What Is a Multiple Sclerosis Relapse?

A relapse, or flare, is a worsening of existing MS symptoms — physical and cognitive — often accompanied by the appearance of new symptoms. Relapses occur because of inflammation of previously existing lesions, new areas of inflammation in the central nervous system, or both.

Typically, relapses come on over hours or days and can last for days or weeks.

A true relapse occurs at least 30 days after your most recent relapse and lasts for at least 24 hours. Shorter periods of symptom worsening, called pseudoexacerbations, can be triggered by heat, stress, and fatigue, among other things. However, once the underlying cause of a pseudoexacerbation is reduced or eliminated, the MS symptoms should abate too.

Treatment for a relapse often includes a short course of high-dose steroids, such as Solu-Medrol (methylprednisolone), delivered intravenously in an outpatient clinic or infusion center. Steroids speed recovery but cannot repair any new damage to the nervous system caused by the inflammation.

A person may recover fully from a relapse or may have lingering symptoms afterward. While the use of disease-modifying drugs (DMDs) should reduce the number of relapses an individual has — and therefore the amount of residual disability — at least one study of more than 1600 people with MS who were taking DMDs, published in November 2018 in the journal Multiple Sclerosis, found a high rate of incomplete recovery 12 months later in those people who had had severe relapses. (2)

Learn More About Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Causes and Risk Factors of Multiple Sclerosis

The cause of MS is unknown — no one knows what sets off the immune reaction that leads to MS lesions in the first place. But it is thought that some combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental causes is necessary to trigger the disease.

Some researchers suspect the immune attack is triggered by certain kinds of viral infections. Others point to low vitamin D levels as a contributing cause. Cigarette smoking is also known to raise the risk of developing MS. (3)

Most people who are diagnosed with MS have no known risk factors. Approximately 20 percent of people with MS have a family member who has it, but even having an identical twin with MS increases the risk by only 20 to 40 percent. So even though having a family history of MS raises the risk somewhat, MS is not considered a genetic or hereditary disease.

Some other risk factors for MS include being a woman, vitamin D deficiency, obesity, having an autoimmune condition, smoking, exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus, having multiple concussions during adolescence, and living further away from the equator.

Learn More About Causes of Multiple Sclerosis: Common Risk Factors, Genetics, and More

How Is Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed?

MS is generally diagnosed on the basis of a person’s history of symptoms, along with the results of a variety of medical tests, which may include:

  • A neurologic evaluation of physical movement and coordination, vision, balance, and mental functioning
  • Blood tests to rule out other conditions
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to detect brain lesions typical of MS
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to obtain cerebrospinal fluid, which may contain substances more likely to be found in people with MS 

Diagnosing MS early is critical so that treatment can begin early, with the goal of slowing the progression of the disease.

However, no single test can definitively diagnose the disease, and MS symptoms mimic those of a number of other conditions.

In addition, symptoms of MS and their severity vary widely from person to person. Symptoms can also come and go from one day or week to the next, as well as change gradually over time.

All of this makes diagnosing MS a challenge, even with a newly revised set of guidelines known as the McDonald Criteria, which spell out what’s needed to accurately diagnose MS.

Prognosis of Multiple Sclerosis

Although MS can sometimes be a debilitating disease, the majority of people who have it don't become severely disabled, according to the National MS Society.

Many people with MS are able to maintain their mobility with the help of assistive devices, such as canes or crutches, often supplemented with scooters or motorized wheelchairs for long distances. About one-third of people with MS completely lose their ability to walk.

People with MS who have the best prognosis are usually those who:

  • Are female
  • Were younger than 30 when the disease started (4)
  • Have infrequent attacks
  • Have relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS)
  • Have few signs of disease in diagnostic scans

A study reported in August 2019 in the journal Brain may improve doctors’ ability to give long-term prognoses to those in the early stages of MS. (5)

The researchers found that brain and spinal cord MRIs done soon after clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), or a single episode of demyelination, predicted disease progression 15 years later. CIS sometimes, but not always, develops into MS. In the 166 study participants who were assessed after 15 years, certain types of lesions on their initial MRIs were linked to development of secondary-progressive MS at follow-up.

Learn More About Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis

Duration of Multiple Sclerosis

MS is incurable, so it lasts a lifetime. It's rarely fatal, although studies have shown that it shortens a person’s life expectancy by about six or seven years, at least in developed countries. (6,7)

Studies that have examined causes of death among people with MS have found pulmonary (lung) infections to be a primary cause of excessive death in this population, and one study found that sepsis is a major cause of MS-related deaths. (8,9)

Sepsis is a life-threatening, whole-body inflammation that is triggered by a severe infection. It most commonly occurs in people with a weakened immune system.

But with better treatments now available for MS, the gap in life expectancy for people with MS may decrease. There are now several MS drugs that can slow the progression of the disease and reduce the frequency and severity of relapses.

Treatment and Medication Options for Multiple Sclerosis

Treatment for MS often includes disease-modifying medication to reduce the number and severity of relapses in those who have them and to slow disease progression. But these drugs don’t treat MS symptoms, nor are they effective at shortening an MS relapse that’s in progress.

For this reason, treating MS generally involves a multipronged approach, including:

  • Using high doses of steroids or sometimes plasmapheresis to shorten relapses
  • Using disease-modifying therapies to prevent relapses and disease progression
  • Treating the symptoms of MS using medication, physical therapy, other types of rehabilitative therapies, a healthy lifestyle, and complementary treatments
  • Providing counseling and support for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders

Disease-Modifying Therapy Options

For people who have relapsing-remitting MS, a handful of disease-modifying drugs can slow the progression of multiple sclerosis and lower the frequency and severity of acute attacks.

For people with primary-progressive MS, only one medication, Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), has been shown to reduce the likelihood of disability progression.

And for people with “active” secondary-progressive MS, meaning they still experience relapses and new lesions continue to be seen on their MRIs, two drugs, Mayzent (siponimod) and Mavenclad (cladribine), were approved in spring 2019.

Learn More About Medication for Multiple Sclerosis

Treatments for MS Symptoms

Doctors can prescribe a wide variety of drugs to relieve symptoms related to MS, include analgesics for pain; antispasmodics, such as baclofen, and muscle relaxants, such as Zanaflex (tizanidine), to ease muscle spasticity; and Ampyra (dalfampridine) to improve walking ability.

Physical therapy can also be helpful for dealing with fatigue, weakness, pain, and spasticity. A physical therapist can prescribe exercises, stretches, and alternative ways of performing physical tasks to improve energy levels and physical functioning.

Occupational therapy is often used to find easier or alternative ways to achieve tasks of daily living, including by using assistive devices and energy conservation techniques.

Your doctor can also refer you for speech-language therapy to address problems with speaking or swallowing, cognitive rehabilitation for help with memory and thinking tasks, and psychotherapy for help with depression, anxiety, grief, or simply distress related to living with a chronic condition.

In addition to formal rehabilitation and therapy, exercise and meditation have both been shown to improve function and quality of life for people living with MS.

Learn More About Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis: Drug Therapy, Rehabilitation, Alternative and Complementary Therapies, and More

Prevention of Multiple Sclerosis

As of yet, there’s no sure-fire way to prevent multiple sclerosis, in large part because the cause of the disease is not yet fully understood. But there are some healthy behaviors that can reduce an individual’s risk of MS.

Vitamin D

Getting adequate vitamin D — from sunlight, food, and supplements — is one way to potentially lower your risk of MS. A study published in April 2018 in Neurology found that growing up in a sunny area and having a high amount of sun exposure in the summer was associated with a lower risk of developing MS. (10) Also, in a study published in October 2018 in The International Journal of Neuroscience, the people diagnosed with clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) who went on to develop MS had lower vitamin D levels than those who didn’t. (11)

So while there’s no guarantee that upping your vitamin D levels will prevent MS, it’s also likely to do no harm, as long as you stay within safe limits of both sun exposure and vitamin D supplementation.


Not smoking is another strategy that may lower MS risk. Smokers and people exposed to second-hand smoke are known to have an increased risk of developing MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Quitting smoking may therefore lower your own risk and that of the people around you.

Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight, particularly in childhood, may also lower a person’s MS risk. A study published in May 2019 in JAMA Neurology found that obesity in children is associated with increased risk of pediatric MS. In addition, the children who were obese responded less well to first-line MS medication than those who were not. (12)

Obesity in early life has also been associated with a higher risk of developing MS as an adult, according to a review published in March 2018 in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. (13)

Learn More About Prevention Measures for Multiple Sclerosis

Complications of Multiple Sclerosis

Beyond the direct effects of MS symptoms — of which there are many and of varying severity — there can be additional consequences of some symptoms.

Urinary Tract Infections

Bladder problems are very common in people with MS, affecting at least 80 percent of them, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Some people have trouble holding their urine in (incontinence), while others can't fully empty their bladder (retention).

Failing to empty the bladder completely raises the risk of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI), which can cause worsening of MS symptoms, as well as discomfort when urinating, needing to urinate frequently, and releasing only small amounts of urine.

If not treated quickly, a urinary tract infection can in turn lead to a kidney infection, which is a medical emergency.


Sometimes people with MS have trouble swallowing, known as dysphagia. When the timing of a swallow is off, or the muscles involved in swallowing are weak, foods and liquids may enter the airway instead of the esophagus, where they belong.

If the person cannot cough forcefully enough to expel them, the food and liquid can end up in the lungs. This can lead to aspiration pneumonia, a serious condition that can require hospitalization.

Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia may include chest pain, fever, shortness of breath, and coughing up foul-smelling phlegm. You should seek medical help if you experience these symptoms.

Physical Trauma From Falling

Many MS symptoms, including balance problems, muscle weakness, fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, and numbness, raise the risk of falling.

Falls, in turn, raise the risk of serious injuries, such as broken bones and head trauma. Falling can also lead to fear of falling, which typically causes a person to become less active, weaker, and even more prone to falling.

While not all falls can be prevented, many can, through a range of strategies to build leg strength, improve balance, fall-proof your home, and address potential causes of dizziness.

Pressure Sores

People with MS who spend most of their time sitting or lying down need to be aware of — and take steps to prevent — pressure sores. Also known as bedsores or pressure ulcers, pressure sores are areas of damaged skin caused by applying pressure to the area for too long.

They tend to develop in areas where the bones are close to the skin, such as the heels, tailbone, shoulder blades, and elbows. A combination of moving more often, using special cushions or mattresses, and checking your skin every day can help to prevent pressure sores or catch them early.

Learn More About MS Complications

Risk of Depression High in Multiple Sclerosis

Depression is common among people who have MS, and not just because it’s stressful to have an unpredictable, progressive disease.

Depression in MS may be a direct result of the immune system's attack on the protective myelin sheaths that envelop nerve fibers, causing behavioral changes, including depression.

Multiple sclerosis can also change what is known as the body's neuroendocrine system, which oversees hormone release, including hormones implicated in depression, such as serotonin.

Additionally, the medicines used to treat MS, such as interferon beta, can also cause depression.

And sometimes depression develops as a result of the stresses and challenges associated with having MS.

The good news: No matter what its underlying cause, depression in people with MS can be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

Research and Statistics: Who Has Multiple Sclerosis?

For decades, most major health organizations estimated the prevalence of MS in the United States at 400,000, but research published in March 2019 in the journal Neurology upped the estimate of the number of Americans living with MS to 1 million. The researchers used private, military, and public health claims data to arrive at this number. (14)

Going forward, more and better information about MS trends in America, including the number of new cases, should be available through the CDC’s National Neurological Conditions Surveillance System, for which Congress appropriated $5 million for fiscal year 2019.

In the meantime, what is known presently about MS is that while anyone can develop it, many of those who have it share the following characteristics:

Age The majority experience their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40.

Race Caucasians have long been believed to be more than twice as likely as other races to develop MS. But the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in clinical trials calls this belief into question.

Gender MS is 2 to 3 times more common in women as in men. (15)

Climate MS is 5 times more common in temperate climates — like the northern United States, Canada, and Europe — than in tropical climates.

Genes People whose close relatives have MS are more susceptible to developing the disease, but there is no evidence the disease is directly inherited.

Black Americans and Multiple Sclerosis

It’s unknown exactly how common MS is among Black Americans, in part because researchers have only just begun to investigate this question, and in part because the complex causes of MS mean that the incidence of disease is likely to vary from one study population to another.

Based on his research, Bruce Cree, MD, PhD, a neurologist and the clinical research director at the multiple sclerosis center at the University of California in San Francisco, estimates that compared with people of Northern European ancestry in the United States, those of African ancestry develop MS at about half the rate. Yet Black Americans tend to develop more aggressive forms of MS than white Americans do, with a larger percentage having spinal lesions, indicating more aggressive disease.

As far as treating MS in Black Americans, studies have generally suggested that the MS treatments that work better for white people also work better for African Americans, although the evidence is limited in this area. Indeed, Black Americans have been largely absent from clinical trials for MS treatments, a fact that Jagannadha “Jay” Avasarala, MD, a neurologist and MS specialist at the UK Kentucky Neuroscience Institute in Lexington finds “unacceptable,” but for which he acknowledges there may be no “easy fix.”

In the meantime, anyone, of any race, with symptoms that suggest MS should seek medical care for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Learn More About How MS Affects Black Americans

Conditions Related to Multiple Sclerosis

A number of medical conditions occur at greater frequency in people with MS without necessarily being direct symptoms or complications of MS, although in many cases the link between the diseases remains unclear. Headache, migraine, fibromyalgia, and epilepsy are four such conditions.

Headache and Migraine

Headaches, and particularly migraine, are more common among people with MS than the general public, and the reasons for this are not fully understood. While some studies have found that starting disease-modifying therapies to treat MS reduces the incidence and frequency of headache, others have found that certain MS therapies are linked to more headaches.

For example, a study reported in the January 2019 issue of Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders found that 68 percent of the 754 study participants reported headaches, of which 39 percent were migraine, 20 percent tension-type headache, and 38 percent medication overuse headache. While 20 percent of the participants reported their headaches started before starting MS disease-modifying therapies, 80 percent said the headaches started after starting drug therapy. There were more headaches in those being treated with interferon beta drugs, of which there are several approved for MS treatment. (16)

But in a study published in the February 2019 issue of European Neurology, participants reported fewer headaches after the initiating of MS medication. The researchers in this study asked 50 people with new-onset MS about their recent history of headache. In the four weeks prior to developing neurological symptoms suggestive of MS, 78 percent reported headaches, most frequently migraine or probable migraine. Six months later, the percentage of those experiencing headache dropped to 61 percent. The researchers concluded that frequent headaches may be an early sign of MS, and that the decrease in headaches seen in the study could be a result of the effects of immunomodulatory therapy given to treat the MS. (17)


Fibromyalgia is sometimes mistaken for MS, and MS is sometimes mistaken for fibromyalgia. Both occur more frequently in women, and both can cause pain, fatigue, and brain fog, among other symptoms. But is there a connection between the two that goes beyond these commonalities?

A study published online in July 2018 in Multiple Sclerosis Journal examined the health records of nearly 14,000 people with MS from four Canadian locations and compared them with the records of nearly 67,000 people without MS. The researchers found that fibromyalgia was 3 times more common in the people diagnosed with MS. However, because the goal of the study was to identify early signs of MS, it did not explore the link between fibromyalgia and MS further. (18)

At least one researcher, Ethan B. Russo, MD, has theorized that multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia — as well as migraine, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and some other conditions — share an underlying problem he calls clinical endocannabinoid deficiency.

Endocannabinoids are cannabis-like molecules that are naturally produced by the human body. Endocannabinoid receptors are found in the brain, nerves, skin, blood vessels, and other organs throughout the body. Consequently, the endocannabinoid system is involved in the regulation of physiological functions throughout much of the body.

According to Dr. Russo, in an article published in July 2016 in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, "All humans have an underlying endocannabinoid tone that is a reflection of levels of the endocannabinoids, anandamide (arachidonylethanolamide), and 2-arachidonoylglycerol, their production, metabolism, and the relative abundance and state of cannabinoid receptors.” A deficiency in endocannabinoid tone, he says, gives rise to pathophysiology, or functional changes that characterize various diseases and syndromes. (19)

In the same article, Russo describes existing studies of cannabis-based treatment for IBS, migraine, fibromyalgia, and some other conditions, and calls for randomized clinical trials in this area of research.


Seizures are the hallmark of epilepsy, and they sometimes occur in MS as well, although they’re fairly uncommon, occurring in the 2 to 5 percent of the MS population, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Just as in people with epilepsy, seizures that occur in people with MS are the result of neurons firing abnormally. However, the specific cause of seizures in MS is unknown. It’s possible they’re triggered by MS lesions in the brain in susceptible individuals. Indeed, a study published in June 2019 in Frontiers in Neurology concluded that “Cortical lesions occurring in MS patients may play an important role in comorbid epilepsy.” But there’s much that’s still unknown about the link between MS and epilepsy. (20)

People with MS who have recurrent seizures are generally treated with anti-seizure medication.

Myths and Facts About Multiple Sclerosis

MS is not a rare disease, but it’s not that common, either. It’s no surprise, then, that many people know very little about it, and that sometimes what they know is wrong. In addition, scientists’ understanding of MS — what raises the risk of getting it, how best to treat it, and how to live well with it — has advanced considerably in recent years. So even some doctors may hold outdated beliefs about MS. For people who live with the disease, it’s important to know what’s what.

Learn More About Common Multiple Sclerosis Myths

MS Diet: Healthy Eating Habits for Multiple Sclerosis

A healthy diet for people with multiple sclerosis is not that different from a healthy diet for anyone. Basic good nutrition — sufficient calories from a mix of lean proteins, whole-grain carbohydrate sources, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats (from fish, nuts, seeds, and oil) — can go a long way toward maintaining your energy levels and helping to prevent such chronic diseases as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Certain foods may also help manage symptoms associated with MS, such as high-fiber foods helping to relieve constipation.

Learn More About Healthy Eating Habits for Multiple Sclerosis

Resources We Love

Favorite MS Patient Advocacy Orgs

National Multiple Sclerosis Society

The National MS Society is probably the best-known MS patient advocacy organization in the United States, and for good reason. It provides information, assistance, and support of various kinds through its local chapters and through its MS Navigators, who are available to chat online or by phone. It’s a great place to start if you have questions about MS, need help finding a healthcare provider or navigating health insurance benefits, want to attend a local MS-related event, or want to get involved in advocacy work yourself.

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America

The MSAA specializes in improving the lives of people living with MS through its toll-free helpline, cooling products program, MRI access fund, and much more. Check out its calendar of events for free educational presentations around the United States and Puerto Rico. Try out its My MS Manager app to track the disease activity, store your medical information, and generate charts and reports. (The app is available for both Android and iOS devices and is free for individuals with MS and their caregivers.) MSAA has also teamed up with HealthUnlocked to provide a space for online discussion and support.

MS Focus

MS Focus offers a variety of grant programs to provide assistive technology, laptop computers, emergency living assistance, homecare, and cooling items. The website also provides a directory of MS support groups and lists live events focused on MS education, fundraising, and wellness activities.

International Progressive MS Alliance

Progressive forms of MS, which include primary- and secondary-progressive MS, can cause significant physical and cognitive disability, and until recently, no drug treatments have been available for these forms of MS. The Progressive MS Alliance is working to change the lives of people with progressive MS by conducting more and better studies to hasten the development of drug treatments and other therapies for those affected.

MS Coalition

The MS Coalition brings together nine member organizations with a shared commitment to improving the lives of people with MS. It provides a quick way to find out which of these organizations might have programs that are helpful to you.

Influential MS Fundraiser

Race to Erase MS

The Race to Erase MS annual gala attracts a who’s who of celebrities and a lot of money to fund research on treating MS. And while the ticket price of the gala may be a bit steep for ordinary people, the MS Forum and Expo that happens the next day is free and open to the public, and offers access to some of the top MS researchers in the United States.

Basic Info to Learn From and Share With Others

Mayo Clinic

When you’re first diagnosed with MS or want to help friends and family members understand the condition, the Mayo Clinic website is a great place to start. The site offers basic information on symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, and simple illustrations of what’s happening in the body.

Favorite Videos Featuring MS Patients and Professionals

MS TeamWorks

One way to feel less alone with MS is to listen to other people talk about their situation. The Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers has put together a collection of videos featuring people living with MS as well as doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who treat MS. Chances are you’ll find much to relate to, and maybe some new ideas on how to better manage MS.

Best Patient-Informed MS Research Org


Here’s a chance to participate in MS research without necessarily taking part in a clinical trial. When you join iConquerMS, you contribute information about your MS history, symptoms, and treatments. Researchers then use your information, along with that of thousands of other people living with MS, to look for patterns and clues about the causes of MS and the best ways to treat it. As an iConquerMS member, you can also make suggestions directly to researchers on the types of studies you’d like to see done.

Favorite Blog Collection


There are lots of great blogs out there by people with MS, but the advantage of subscribing to MultipleSclerosis.net is that you get regular blog posts from a whole bunch of diverse voices. Yes, they all share the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, but they each have their own experiences, concerns, and perspective on life, MS, and the intersection of the two.

Favorite MS Podcast

RealTalk MS

Every week host Jon Strum tackles another MS topic, from stem cell transplants to advances in rehabilitation to healthcare legislation that could affect people with MS. Listen in as he interviews scientists, activists, MS caregivers, and others whose lives have been affect by MS.

Learn More About Additional Resources and Support for Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis and COVID-19

Living with MS means living with uncertainty, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to that uncertainty. For one thing, it’s not known for sure if people with MS have a higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 than the general public, although there are some reasons to think they might. For another, it seems likely that people with MS with higher disability levels have a higher risk of developing complications if they were to contract COVID-19.

But much is still unknown, including when and if it’s safe to venture out, even to the doctor’s office for routine or acute care. Keeping in touch with your MS care providers during this time is important, and the broader availability of telemedicine in the United States since the pandemic started has made it safer and, for some, easier to do that. If you haven’t yet tried a virtual visit, you may be pleasantly surprised.

The anxiety and fear almost everyone is feeling because of COVID-19 cannot be denied. But for many people with MS, living through the pandemic has called into play skills they’ve already learned through living with MS: how to plan ahead for even simple outings like grocery shopping, how to stay connected to family and friends even while you keep your physical distance, and how to get by with what’s available when what you really want isn’t available.

Still, even people with normally good coping skills have been stressed by these abnormal times, and it’s important do things you know are good for your mental health, like eating healthfully, getting enough sleep, maintaining a physical activity routine, and reaching out for information and support, not just from friends, but from the larger MS community. All of the major MS patient advocacy organizations as well as many smaller ones have fact sheets, helplines, webinars, chats, exercise videos, and more than can help you stay informed and connected.

Learn More About Living With MS During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking


  1. Types of MS. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
  2. Achiron A, Sarova-Pinhas I, Magalashvili D, et al. Residual Disability After Severe Relapse in People With Multiple Sclerosis Treated With Disease-Modifying Therapy. Multiple Sclerosis. November 2018.
  3. Marabita F, Almgren M, Sjöholm LK, et al. Smoking Induces DNA Methylation Changes in Multiple Sclerosis Patients With Exposure-Response Relationship. Scientific Reports. November 2017.
  4. Ramachandran S, Strange RC, Jones PW, et al. Associations Between Onset Age and Disability in Multiple Sclerosis Patients Studied Using MSSS and a Progression Model. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders. September 2014.
  5. Brownlee WJ, Altmann DR, Prados F, et al. Early Imaging Predictors of Long-Term Outcomes in Relapse-Onset Multiple Sclerosis. Brain. August 2019.
  6. Kaufman DW, Reshef S, Golub HL, et al. Survival in Commercially Insured Multiple Sclerosis Patients and Comparator Subjects in the U.S. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders. May 2014.
  7. Lunde HMB, Assmus J, Myhr K-M, Grytten N. Survival and Cause of Death in Multiple Sclerosis: A 60-Year Longitudinal Population Study. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. August 2017.
  8. Goodin DS, Ebers GC, Cutter G, et al. Cause of Death in MS: Long-Term Follow-Up of a Randomised Cohort, 21 Years After the Start of the Pivotal IFNβ-1b Study. BMJ Open. January 2012.
  9. Goodin DS, Corwin M, Kaufman D, et al. Causes of Death among Commercially Insured Multiple Sclerosis Patients in the United States. PLoS One. August 2014.
  10. Tremlett H, Zhu F, Ascherio A, Munger KL. Sun Exposure Over the Life Course and Associations With Multiple Sclerosis. Neurology. April 2018.
  11. Shaheen HA, Sayed SS, Dakir LI, et al. Does Vitamin D Deficiency Predict Early Conversion of Clinically Isolated Syndrome? A Preliminary Egyptian Study. The International Journal of Neuroscience. October 2018.
  12. Huppke B, Ellenberger D, Hummel H, et al. Association of Obesity With Multiple Sclerosis Risk and Response to First-line Disease Modifying Drugs in Children. JAMA Neurology. May 2019.
  13. Huitema MJD, Schenk GJ. Insights Into the Mechanisms That May Clarify Obesity as a Risk Factor for Multiple Sclerosis.Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. March 2018.
  14. Wallin MT, Culpepper WJ, Campbell JD, et al. The Prevalence of MS in the United States. Neurology. March 2019.
  15. Harbo HF, Gold R, Tintoré M. Sex and Gender Issues in Multiple Sclerosis. Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders. July 2013.
  16. Beckmann Y, Türe S. Headache Characteristics in Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders. January 2019.
  17. Gebhardt M, Kropp P, Hoffman F, Zettl UK. Heachache at the Time of First Symptom Manifestation of Multiple Sclerosis: A Prospective, Longitudinal Study. European Neurology. February 2019.
  18. Wijnands JMA, Zhu Feng, Kingwell E, et al. Five Years Before Multiple Sclerosis Onset: Phenotyping the Prodrome. Multiple Sclerosis Journal. July 2018.
  19. Russo EB. Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. July 2016.
  20. Schorner A, Weissert R. Patients With Epileptic Seizures and Multiple Sclerosis in a Multiple Sclerosis Center in Southern Germany Between 2003–2015. Frontiers in Neurology. June 2019.


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