How MS Affects the Body

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How MS affects the body

MS affects each person differently and can affect many parts of the body.

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord.

MS occurs when the immune system attacks the myelin sheath, the covering that protects nerve fibers. The damage complicates communication between the brain and the rest of the body. As a result, MS can affect many parts of the body.

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Brain

Damage to myelin and the nerves underneath can disrupt the brain’s ability to send signals to the rest of the body.

About 1 in 2 people with MS have problems thinking, called cognitive problems, which include difficulty concentrating and poor memory.

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Eyes

MS can cause inflammation of the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. This inflammation can cause vision problems, including blurred vision and pain when moving the eyes.

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Throat

MS can damage the nerves that control the muscles needed for chewing, swallowing, and speaking. MS can also cause numbness in the throat that makes it difficult to chew and swallow.

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Chest

Damage to the nerves in the chest muscles can cause breathing problems.

Nerve damage can cause a symptom known as the “MS hug” (also known as “cinch”), which is the sensation of a tight band around the chest or ribs.

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Arms

Muscle weakness in the arms and legs is a common symptom of MS.

Many people with MS also feel tingling or numbness in their arms and legs.

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Bladder and intestines

Nerve damage can cause problems with bladder and bowel control.

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Legs and feet

Weakness in one or both legs is a common symptom that can make it difficult to walk or maintain balance. Pain, numbness, and tingling in the legs and feet are also common.

Some people with MS have “hot feet” (erythromelalgia), which is when their feet feel hot and swollen even though they look normal.

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MS affects each person differently and symptoms can be difficult to predict. A healthcare provider can help you decide if treatment is an option to manage your individual MS symptoms.

This educational resource was created with the support of Novartis.

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