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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the transmission of nerve impulses in the central nervous system. In severe cases, a person who has MS may lose the ability to write, speak, or walk. Approximately 250,000 to 350,000 people in the United States are currently diagnosed with MS, and the condition tends to be more common in white women and people who live in temperate climates.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) that usually first appears between the ages of 20 and 40, and affects women twice as often as men. Also known as MS, multiple sclerosis is the leading cause of disability among young adults.
An unpredictable disease of the central nervous system, multiple sclerosis can range from being relatively benign to somewhat disabling to devastating as communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted.
Although multiple sclerosis was first diagnosed in 1849, the earliest known description of a person with possible MS dates back to fourteenth-century Holland.

Patterns of Multiple Sclerosis

There are four patterns of multiple sclerosis. The more common pattern is an episode of symptoms that lasts for days or weeks followed by a period of no symptoms for weeks or months. This type of multiple sclerosis is called relapsing-remitting MS.
A less common pattern of multiple sclerosis is a steady worsening of symptoms from the first sign of illness. This is called primary-progressive MS.
The two other main forms of multiple sclerosis include secondary-progressive and progressive-relapsing.
(Click Types of Multiple Sclerosis for more information.)
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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