Multiple Sclerosis: What It Is & What It Is Not

When people think of a face associated with MS, often times it is associated with a Caucasian person. Although the majority of MS cases being reported are in that population, there are many other faces of MS, including those of
African American men and women.

We hosted a Facebook chat with the Professor & Chair Head of the Department of Neurology, Annapurni Jayam Trouth, MD.

Question: What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)? How do I know if I have MS? What causes the symptoms of MS?

Dr. Annapurni: Multiple Sclerosis is a disorder of the body’s immune system, where the body develops antibodies to the white matter (myelin) in the brain or spinal cord. These antibodies attack myelin, which is a protective covering around the nerves or tracts within the brain, causing inflammation and breakdown of the myelin and can ultimately affect the nerves also and cause cell death.

The transmission of information through the nerves is affected causing multiple symptoms like:

– weakness
– numbness
– visual impairment
– loss of vision
– imbalance
– double vision
– gait difficulties
– speech difficulties

Because the inflammation can subside on its own, multiple sclerosis is characterized by periods of remission and exacerbation. Exacerbations can be rapid in onset to developing over a few days and remissions can last from weeks to years. Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis is the most common presentation starting at a young age, even in the teens or earlier. The common age group involved is 20 to 40 years of age and women are more susceptible. People in temperate climates are also more susceptible. If you develop any of the symptoms mentioned and it does not go away, but persists or worsens, you should get checked out. Sudden loss of vision in one eye, or optic neuritis, is a frequent initial presentation.

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Question: At what age can you get MS?

Dr. Annapurni: It most frequently starts between 20 and 40 years of age, but has occurred in children younger than 10 and in older people also. It is highly unusual to start after 50 years of age.

Question: How do you get MS? Is MS contagious or hereditary?

Dr. Annapurni: MS is not considered as an inherited disorder – there is no direct transmission through chromosome defects. However some families could have certain types of genes controlling the immune system being transmitted making them more susceptible to it, and therefore more members in certain families may be affected. It is definitely not contagious.

Question: What kind of doctor/s do I need to see?

Dr. Annapurni: The best group of doctors who treat Multiple Sclerosis are Neurologists. You can ask your Primary Care Physician to refer you to a Neurologist.

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