MS: The Basics

MS is a progressive and unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body. The severity of the disease and its symptoms vary from person to person. The cause of MS is unknown and although there are treatments that can slow disease progression, at this time there is no known cure.

What It Is:

MS is a chronic disease of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Three factors appear to have an influence on developing MS: genetic predisposition, environmental factors such a geographical location, and a trigger, such a virus.

How It Manifests:

The nerve fibers in the central nervous system are protected and made more effective by a fatty substance, myelin, which helps the nerve fibers conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain. MS produces injury in the central nervous system when the immune system mistakenly attacks myelin. Areas of myelin damage are known as plaques, or lesions, and these eventually fill in with scar tissue. The name multiple sclerosis means “many scars.” MS can also cause destruction of the entire nerve.

The damage from lesions disrupts the transmission of nerve impulses from the central nervous system to the rest of the body causing a variety of symptoms. Common symptoms include visual changes, muscle weakness, problems with balance, fatigue, numbness, and emotional and cognitive changes but there are many others. MS has periods when the disease is quite active known as exacerbations. During exacerbations symptoms can be more pronounced, but usually subside and sometimes go away after an exacerbation.

Who Gets It:

MS is most commonly diagnosed in young adults. Eighty percent of MS patients develop MS between the ages of 16 and 45. Women are more frequently diagnosed with MS by at least 2 to 1. MS is the leading cause of disability in young women and the second leading cause of disability in young men. MS is more common among Caucasians than Blacks, Hispanics or Asians and has often been considered a disease that predominantly affects those of Northern European decent.

The worldwide prevalence is 2.7 million and over 400,000 Americans have been diagnosed with the disease. The incidence of MS is higher North of the 38th parallel. In Colorado, we estimate that one in 550 people have MS. Colorado has always been thought to have an extremely high incidence of MS, perhaps because the 40th parallel runs through Boulder. The incidence of MS increases with increased distance from the equator but the Colorado incidence appears to be similar to other areas of the same latitude.

How It's Treated:

It's only been since 1993 that medications have been available to treat MS. Today there are 14 agents approved by the FDA for the treatment of MS, but these drugs are only partially effective. The search for new agents with better efficacy is moving quickly and there are now over 30 new agents in clinical trials.

Read More in Multiple Sclerosis: The Ultimate User-Friendly Guide


MS 101

MS 101 is an indispensable primer on the basics of multiple sclerosis, providing a place for newly-diagnosed individuals and their families and friends to ask questions and get answers that go deeper than clinical explanations and medical facts. This informal discussion of issues related to multiple sclerosis is beneficial to the newly diagnosed as well as those that have been living with MS for years.
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Conversations on MS

Join the evolving discussion and find out what’s new in MS research, symptom management, clinical care options and more. Conversations on MS is our touring workshop led by one of the MS-specialty neurologists from the Rocky Mountain MS Center at University of Colorado. Our doctors travel the region on a regular basis to bring Conversations on MS to you. 

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For Caregivers & Family

Sylivia_and_Michael_Angellsm2Whether a family caregiver is in the early stages of helping, or is in the midst of single-handedly trying to manage everything for a loved one, it’s important to find out what resources are available.

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"It was shortly after I was diagnosed that I stumbled across the MS 101 class. Although I had done a lot of research on my own and didn’t expect to learn anything, I went. I learned more in that class than in all my reading and research. Suddenly I had real knowledge and hope."
Elizabeth, RMMSC Patient

Our education programs continue to provide patients and their families with materials and resources to help them make informed decisions about their care.

MS 101 is an indispensable orientation on MS where newly diagnosed patients and their caregivers can get answers that go deeper than clinical explanations and medical facts.

Conversations on MS sessions bring our doctors around the region to talk to patients, caregivers and the public.

Our education efforts also include large education seminars, monthly e-newsletters for both patients and the general public, a regular webinar series, and InforMS — our quarterly magazine with a worldwide distribution.

Please browse our Education programs and services through the menu.