Strange symptoms appear out of nowhere even if you are an active, healthy adult. Blurred vision, numbness, tingling and memory loss — all can be the signs of a neurological condition like multiple sclerosis. The good news is MS doesn’t have to stop you from leading a full and active lifestyle.

MS ‑ a degenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord can have many symptoms and is treatable. With an estimated 2.3 million people affected worldwide, research is developing new options for living with MS.

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis attacks the central nervous system and damages myelin, the insulation around nerve fibers. This interrupts communication between the brain and body, leading to a host of symptoms, from blurred vision and numbness to weakness and fatigue.

MS is unpredictable, and its causes are largely unknown. Research suggests there may be environmental factors that trigger MS in someone who is genetically predisposed. Smokers or people with low levels of Vitamin D also appear to be more at risk.

Who’s affected?

MS affects an estimated 400,000 Americans, including 2-3 times more women than men. It’s typically diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with the highest occurrences in Caucasians of northern European descent.

What does MS look like?

Since MS damages the central nervous system, symptoms vary greatly. Symptoms can disappear, return or worsen throughout someone’s lifetime. MS is difficult to diagnose, and there’s no single test that can identify it. A neurologist will conduct several diagnostic exams, including an MRI to rule out other potential conditions.

How do you treat MS?

Just as symptoms and severity vary, so does treatment. Many medications can manage symptoms, modify disease progression and treat relapses. Several ongoing studies aim to determine the best pharmaceuticals for different types of MS.

Patients are typically the most successful when they work closely with a multidisciplinary team of neurologists, physical and occupational therapists, nurses, social workers and psychologists that give patients access to the full range of resources they need.

What’s the cure?

Currently, there is no cure for MS, but with early and comprehensive management, many patients can reduce symptoms, manage complications and change how the disease progresses. New therapies and pharmaceuticals are showing promise, with many clinical trials currently underway at the USC Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center & Research Group.

How does MS affect an active lifestyle?

Focusing on wellness can minimize the effects of MS. Together, a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management and medication can help patients stay active and do the things you love. Two-thirds of those affected by MS can walk, though some need a cane or crutches to help with balance or weakness.

Exercise can be especially helpful, whether it’s walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi or anything you enjoy and will do regularly. A physical therapist can identify the best activities for you, including any necessary modifications. Overall, staying active is one of the best ways to manage MS.

Learn more from the USC Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center & Research Group.