MS (Multiple Sclerosis)

The Henry Ford Neurodegenerative Diseases Center includes national experts in the diagnosis and management of multiple sclerosis (MS), a central nervous system disorder that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.

What is multiple sclerosis?

MS is believed to be an autoimmune disease, which means that the illness is caused by the body’s own immune system. It is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision.

Multiple sclerosis usually affects women more than men. The disorder most commonly begins between ages 20 and 40, but can be seen at any age.

What causes multiple sclerosis?

The exact cause is not known, but multiple sclerosis is believed to result from damage to the myelin sheath, the protective material that surrounds nerve cells. It is a progressive disease, meaning the nerve damage gets worse over time.

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis

There is no single test to determine if a person has MS. Because symptoms of MS can mimic many other neurological disorders, a diagnosis is made by carefully ruling out other conditions. Symptoms of multiple sclerosis can include:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Red-green color distortion or even blindness in one eye
  • Muscle weakness in the extremities and difficulty with coordination and balance
  • Paralysis
  • Feelings such as numbness, prickling, or "pins and needles" sensations
  • Pain
  • Speech impediments
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness
  • Hearing loss
  • Difficulties with concentration, attention, memory and judgment
  • Depression

Over the course of the disease, some symptoms may come and go, while others may be more lasting. Most people with MS typically experience relapses (flare-ups) of symptoms, followed by remissions (complete recovery periods). Others may have more progressive forms of the disease, which means they experience a steady worsening of neurologic function without distinct relapses or remissions.

Advanced MS diagnosis at Henry Ford Hospital

Multiple sclerosis is difficult to diagnose because there is no definitive test to identify the disease. Diagnosis commonly involves:

  • Complete neurological examination, including a review of your medical history
  • Brain and spine imaging studies
  • Lumbar puncture test
  • Blood analysis

Advanced testing techniques at the Henry Ford Neurodegenerative Diseases Center also include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Advances in MRI have improved the ability to diagnose MS. Disease-related changes in the brain or spinal cord are detected by MRI in more than 90 percent of people suspected of having MS.
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy: A non-invasive technique used to evaluate the bioenergetics of muscle, a study provided by only a few centers in the United States
  • Electromyography (EMG): A diagnostic exam that evaluates the health of the muscles and the nerves that control them by measuring muscle electrical activity
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