Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link
Quick Facts

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jan 2020| Content last modified Jan 2020
Click here for the Professional Version
Get the full details
Topic Resources

What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Sclerosis means scarring. Multiple sclerosis is a disease that causes multiple scars on nerves in your brain and spinal cord. These scars keep the nerves from working properly.

What causes MS?

What are the symptoms of MS?

Because MS attacks different nerves, symptoms are different for different people. And the pattern of how symptoms come and go is different.

Usually, MS symptoms appear suddenly (called a flare) and then go away (called remission). Usually, you're in good health between flares. Most people have flares only every year or two, but you may have more. Each flare may affect a different part of your body. Flares can last a few days to a few months.

As time goes on, your symptoms may not go away completely between flares. In some people, symptoms never go away. Whatever your symptom pattern is, MS tends to slowly get worse.

Common early symptoms of MS include:

  • Tingling or numbness in parts of your arms, legs, chest, back, or face

  • Weakness, clumsiness, or stiffness in your arms or legs

  • Blind spots, blurry vision, or pain when moving one eye

Other early symptoms include:

  • Double vision (seeing two of one thing)

  • Sudden burning or electric shock-like pains down your back, legs, or arm that may come on their own, when something touches you, or when you bend your neck

Later symptoms of MS may include:

  • Shaky, irregular movements

  • Being unable to move a part or all of your body

  • Painful muscle cramps and muscle weakness

  • Balance and walking difficulty

  • Feeling tired and weak

  • Slow, slurred speech

  • Depression or mood swings

  • Difficulty thinking, remembering things, paying attention, or making decisions

  • Dizziness

  • Problems controlling urination (peeing) or bowel movements (pooping)

Symptoms may become worse if you're hot, such as on a hot day or during a fever.

How can doctors tell if I have MS?

How do doctors treat MS?

To treat symptom flares, doctors use:

  • Medicines called corticosteroids

If corticosteroids don't help, doctors may try a blood treatment called plasma exchange.

To help prevent flares of symptoms, doctors use various different medicines that help keep your immune system from attacking your nerves.

Doctors may use other medicines to treat specific symptoms, such as muscle tightness, tingling sensations, tiredness, and depression.

You can make life with MS easier and help prevent disability by:

Where can I find more information on MS?

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
Others also read

Test your knowledge

Diabetic Ketoacidosis
Diabetic ketoacidosis is a complication of diabetes. It occurs mostly in people with type 1 diabetes. Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when a lack of insulin prevents glucose in the bloodstream from entering the cells. Without adequate glucose, the cells burn fat for energy, producing compounds called ketones. Ketones supply some energy, but they also make the blood too acidic. There are several causes of ketoacidosis. Which of the following is a cause of ketoacidosis?
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Also of Interest

Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID