Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis Your Health

About This Condition

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a central nervous system disease that affects millions worldwide. Although most individuals do not become severely disabled, more than half experience spasticity, which tightens muscles and can complicate daily life.

Of the estimated 2.5 million worldwide with multiple sclerosis,1 over half suffer from spasticity.2


Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system (the brain or spinal cord).


The exact cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown. It is believed to be an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own myelin, a fatty tissue that helps nerve fibres conduct electrical impulses.1

Risk Factors

Scientists don’t know what causes multiple sclerosis. Most agree that several factors are involved, including genetics, gender, and environmental triggers (possibilities include viruses, heavy metals [toxicity], and trauma).1 Multiple sclerosis is most common in Caucasians (especially Northern Europeans), women, and individuals with a genetic predisposition.1


The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can be unpredictable and vary widely from person to person. However, more than half of people with multiple sclerosis experience spasticity:2

  • 34% have spasticity that affects their daily living
  • 17% reported that spasticity frequently affects activities
  • 13% reported a need to modify daily activities due to spasticity
  • 4% reported that spasticity prevents daily activities


Several tests and procedures are used to diagnose multiple sclerosis, including a complete medical history, nervous system functioning, and diagnostic test.

Two basic signs are required to confirm multiple sclerosis:1

  • Evidence of the disease in different parts of the nervous system
  • Evidence of at least two separate flare-ups of the disease

Types of Multiple Sclerosis

Your clinician may diagnose you with one of many different types of multiple sclerosis. Since 1996, multiple sclerosis has been categorised in the following ways:1

  • Relapsing-Remitting (very common as initial diagnosis)
  • Primary-Progressive (relatively rare)
  • Secondary-Progressive (half of all Relapsing-Remitting individuals develop this within 10 years)
  • Progressive-Relapsing (relatively rare)

Multiple sclerosis occurs most commonly in adults, but it is also diagnosed in children and adolescents.1

About Spasticity due to Multiple Sclerosis

Spasticity is caused by damage or injury to the part of the central nervous system (the brain or spinal cord) that controls voluntary movement. This damage disrupts important signals between the nervous system and muscles, creating an imbalance that increases muscle activity or spasms.

Spasticity can make movement, posture, and balance difficult. It may affect your ability to move one or more of your limbs, or to move one side of your body. Sometimes spasticity is so severe that it gets in the way of daily activities, sleep patterns, and care giving. In certain situations, this loss of control can be dangerous for the individual.



National MS Society. MS The Disease. Available at: Accessed 04/05/08.


Rizzo MA et al. Prevalence and treatment of spasticity reported by multiple sclerosis patients. Multiple Sclerosis. 2004; 10: 589-95.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.