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Research & Innovation

How Multiple Sclerosis Affects the Body

January 24, 2023

Poster for video How Multiple Sclerosis Affects The Body - Yale Medicine Explains

The central nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, is responsible for how we think, feel, and move—it plays a role in pretty much everything we do.

Understandably, any disease that impairs this vital system has profound effects. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks protective nerve cell coverings in the central nervous system.

“And because the central nervous system has connections to the entire body, the symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis can be very different, depending on the part of the central nervous system being attacked by the immune system at any given time,” says Erin Longbrake, MD, a Yale Medicine neurologist.

For most people, early symptoms of multiple sclerosis typically arise suddenly and may include vision loss, difficulty walking, or numbness, she explains.

“When we look at an MRI of a patient with MS, we find inflammation, which is damage caused by the immune system,” she says. “If left untreated, MS tends to become progressive, which means that people slowly get worse over many years. That is something we want to avoid.”

Though a few decades ago there were no helpful treatments for MS, that’s changed and doctors now have many more tools to offer. Today, there are more than 20 different immunotherapies that can control the disease.

“They’re not cures, but they can effectively put the disease into remission for many, many years,” Dr. Longbrake says.

In this video, Dr. Longbrake discusses Yale Medicine’s work on behalf of people with MS, including the advantages of early diagnosis and a review of treatment options in all stages