Multiple sclerosis (MS), also known as disseminated sclerosis or encephalomyelitis disseminata, is an inflammatory disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This damage disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a wide range of signs and symptoms, including physical, mental, and sometimes psychiatric problems. MS takes several forms, with new symptoms either occurring in isolated attacks (relapsing forms) or building up over time (progressive forms). Between attacks, symptoms may go away completely; however, permanent neurological problems often occur, especially as the disease advances.
While the cause is not clear, the underlying mechanism is thought to be either destruction by the immune system or failure of the myelin-producing cells. Proposed causes for this include genetics and environmental factors such as infections. MS is usually diagnosed based on the presenting signs and symptoms and the results of supporting medical tests.
As of 2008, between 2 and 2.5 million people are affected globally with rates varying widely in different regions of the world and among different populations. The disease usually begins between the ages of 20 and 50 and is twice as common in women as in men. The name multiple sclerosis refers to scars (sclerae—better known as plaques or lesions) particularly in the white matter of the brain and spinal cord. MS was first described in 1868 by Jean-Martin Charcot.
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