Multiple Sclerosis

Intermittent Catheterization for those with Multiple Sclerosis from the National MS Society

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease that usually has multiple areas of inflammation and scarring of the myelin (the tissue that protects our nerve fibers) in the brain and spinal cord, which disrupts nerve communication and creates neurological issues. It has been diagnosed in 350,000 to 500,000 people in the United States. It occurs more commonly in women than in men, and 90% of MS patients are diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 60.

An individual with MS can experience varying degrees of neurological impairment, depending upon the location and extent of the scarring. There is no known cure for MS at this time, although research is still rigorously being done to learn more about this illness.


What causes Multiple Sclerosis?

No one specific cause has been identified yet, but there are a few theories. MS could be an auto-immune disease, in which the body’s immune system begins to attack normal body tissue or the myelin-producing cells.

Research suggests that viruses may play a role, as well. If this is the case, then MS could be caused by a persistent viral infection, or by an immune response initiated by a transient viral infection in the body (most likely the nervous system).  Environmental studies suggest there may be a triggering factor (most likely infectious) that occur before age 16 in order for the disease to occur later on in life.

There is a higher incidence of MS found in the Northern temperate zones of North America and Europe. This seems to indicate that there could be some triggering factor in the environment, such as toxins, vitamin-deficiencies, etc. that could be causing MS to manifest in those whose immune systems are genetically predisposed to MS.

Multiple sclerosis is not transmitted genetically but research indicates an increased susceptibility to autoimmune diseases, appears to be at least partly genetic. MS itself is not a hereditary disease, but the hereditary factor may make an individual susceptible to its development.


What are the most common symptoms of MS?

The symptoms can vary from person to person, so not all of these will affect MS patients. Also symptoms can be persistent or occur intermittently. The most common include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Spasticity
  • Balance problems
  • Bladder & bowel problems
  • Numbness
  • Vision loss
  • Tremor
  • Vertigo

Because the symptoms of MS are the result of nerve lesions causing disturbances in one or more areas of the nervous system, the symptoms that occur are determined by the location of the lesion/damage.

If you are not sure you have MS, don’t be afraid to ask questions and discuss this further with your doctor.


Who gets Multiple Sclerosis?

Currently, there are 350,000 to 500,000 people in the United States who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS is more common in women, appears more frequently in whites than in Hispanics or African Americans and is relatively rare among Asians and certain other groups.

Ninety percent of MS patients diagnosed are between the ages of 16 and 60; but multiple sclerosis can make its first appearance in early childhood or after age 60.


What are the most common symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?

The most common characteristics of MS include fatigue, weakness, spasticity, balance problems, bladder and bowel problems, numbness, vision loss, tremor and vertigo. Not all symptoms affect all MS patients and symptoms and signs may be persistent or may cease from time to time.

Because the signs and symptoms that define the clinical picture of MS are the result of nerve lesions causing disturbances in electrical conduction in one or more areas of the central nervous system, the nature of the symptoms that occur is determined by the location of the lesion.


Why do doctors feel that I am imagining my symptoms?

In the beginning phases of multiple sclerosis, diagnostic tests, such as MRI’s, may be negative but the patient may experience subjective sensory symptoms. These symptoms can include numbness, tingling, or fatigue, and will not be seen on diagnostic tests. This leads doctors to believe there is no illness or that anxiety is present. You should also know that a clinical diagnosis of multiple sclerosis may take years. Often a physician observes a person over a period of time before reaching a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Neurologists are generally consulted and diagnostic tests such as MRI’s, evoked response potential, and others may be used to help with a diagnosis.

If you are not sure you have multiple sclerosis, don’t be afraid to ask questions and to find out more about feelings and symptoms. Do not let symptoms continue without further investigation.


Am I going to end up in a wheelchair?

The natural course of MS is highly variable, and it is impossible to predict the nature, severity or timing of progression in a given patient. In some cases, the course of MS over the first 5 years may provide a clue to the progression of the disease over the next 10 years. Recent studies indicate that 90% of patients with minimal disability 5 years after onset were still ambulatory at 15 years.

Management of multiple sclerosis has changed dramatically. More than two thirds of those with MS are still walking 20 years after developing the disease. Forty percent of persons diagnosed with MS experience little or no disruptions of normal activities and 75% never need a wheelchair. With appropriate management of MS, which includes medical, rehabilitative and psychological approaches, much can be done.


What options can help me?

Early treatment makes a difference. The necessity for early treatment in MS is becoming increasingly clearer. The time has passed for the “let’s wait and see how it goes” attitude before treatment is begun. The message is that early treatment seems to delay disability presumably by decreasing the injury to the nervous system by the multiple sclerosis. The drugs used for treating multiple sclerosis are currently: Avonex, Betaseron, Copaxone, or Novantrone. Another option is alternative healing modalities. Many people find a combination of the two choices can achieve the best results.


Does diet affect Multiple Sclerosis?

Although various dietary regimens have failed to suppress flare-ups or improve remyelination of damaged nerve pathways, a well-balanced diet with proper nutrients is vital in treatment plans intended to reduce the complications of multiple sclerosis. Attention to diet can reduce problems with skin care, bladder disease, incontinence, and bowel control in individuals with severe MS.


Does stress affect Multiple Sclerosis?

By understanding some of the psychological changes that accompany chronic disease, one may take an active role to achieve a more healthy mental state. Psychotherapy or counseling, and body cooling are ways one can relieve stress. Some prefer alternative treatment options, including relaxation techniques (exercise, yoga, massage therapy, meditation, biofeedback, and music) to learn ways to manage unavoidable stress. With MS, the stress that must be managed is the “distress” that may hamper our ability to cope with the events and people in our lives.


Can I get pregnant with Multiple Sclerosis?

For a woman with MS, the decision to have a baby can be more difficult. Multiple sclerosis does not hinder a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant and carrying a child to full term. MS is only another factor in one’s decision to have a child, not the only one. Planning the pregnancy and getting all the information you need can make the decision process easier.


What options do I have?

The key is early treatment, which seems to delay disability by decreasing the injury to the nervous system.

Drugs currently used for treatment are currently:

  • Avonex
  • Betaseron
  • Copaxone
  • Novantrone

Other options can include alternative healing modalities. Diet does not seem to suppress flare-ups or improve re-myelination of damaged nerves, but a well-balanced diet with proper nutrients can reduce complications and problems with skin care, bladder issues, incontinence, and bowel control in individuals with severe MS.

Intermittent catheterization can also help out with retention, incontinence, etc. Talk to your doctor to see if this is the right course of treatment for your symptoms.


The information here was provided in part by the MS Foundation. If you have a question that was not addressed, please call the Multiple Sclerosis National Toll-free Helpline at 1-888-MSFOCUS (673-6287); or you can contact the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation by email:

This information does not constitute medical advice for any individual. As specific cases may vary from the general information presented here, 180 Medical advises readers to consult a qualified medical or other professional on an individual basis.

If you would like more information on Multiple Sclerosis, please visit the websites listed below:

Multiple Sclerosis International Federation

Multiple Sclerosis Foundation

Multiple Sclerosis Connect
Online community with updated information and support systems, includes news, reviews of products, and various videos.

MS Connection
Online community with an emphasis on learning from others with MS, sharing your stories, and connecting with others in discussions and groups to give and get support.

National MS Society
Dedicated to helping support research for prevention, treatment, and cures.