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Patient Question

What Should You Know About Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?


Acting Chair, Department of Neurology
Director, MS Comprehensive Care Center

Expert Answer

Internationally recognized MS expert Patricia K. Coyle, MD, Founder and Director of Stony Brook's MS Comprehensive Care Center, talks about recognizing the symptoms of MS, managing the condition and how Stony Brook can help.

What is MS?
MS is an acquired neurologic disease that affects the central nervous system. No one knows exactly what causes MS, but it's believed to be an immune-mediated disease in which the body's immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord. In MS, this process destroys myelin (the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibers) and injures the nerve fibers as well. The most common pattern is called relapsing MS and it involves neurologic attacks, also referred to as relapses, exacerbations or flare-ups. In relapsing MS, symptoms such as decreased vision in one eye, pins and needles from the waist down, or double vision are noted consistently over several days to weeks before improving. The more uncommon pattern is progressive MS and it involves the gradual worsening of symptoms, most often impacting the ability to walk, which can occur over months to years without recovery.

Who is at risk?
Ninety percent of people develop MS between the ages of 15 and 50, but it can occasionally strike those both younger and older. MS is more common in women (at least 70 to 75 percent of MS patients). The progressive form of MS tends to occur in individuals in their late 30s and early 40s, and it affects men as often as women. Vitamin D deficiency, smoking and having had mononucleosis all increase one's risk for MS.

What are the symptoms?
Although signs and symptoms vary, if you experience any of the following, seek medical care immediately. These symptoms could be the first sign of MS:

  • Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, which typically occurs on one side of your body at a time or the bottom half of your body
  • Blurring or loss of vision, typically in one eye, often with pain during eye movement (optic neuritis)
  • Double vision
  • Tingling or pain in parts of your body
  • Electric-shock sensations that occur with bending of the neck
  • Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
  • Extreme, unprovoked fatigue
  • Dizziness

How is MS treated?
We've seen the best long-term outcomes when treatment starts early. We now know that ongoing accumulating permanent damage in untreated patients can occur-even when there are no symptoms. This makes early diagnosis and a long-term plan to manage the disease essential. Treatment occurs on many levels: disease-modifying therapies, symptom management, treatment of acute attacks, ongoing health evaluations, lifestyle modifications and more. For optimal management of the disease, it is important to develop a relationship with your physician and a multidisciplinary team that knows your history, can continually assess your health status, modify your treatment and give you support every step of the way.

What does Stony Brook offer?
In brief, we offer a high level of expertise-in diagnosis, treatment, management, research and counseling. In fact, we believe you cannot access better expertise anywhere else in the country. The Stony Brook MS Comprehensive Care Center, started in 1990 and accredited by the National MS Society, was the first center of its kind on Long Island. Today, people come from across the country and around the world to meet with our experienced, multidisciplinary MS team. In state-of-the-art facilities, we provide cutting-edge diagnostics and neuroimaging; cognitive assessments; neuro-ophthalmologic assessments; assessment of neurogenic bladders; state-of-the-art radiology, neuro-ophthalmology, and neuro-ENT services; the latest treatment and management protocols including access to every approved therapy; physical, occupational and speech therapy; an on-site infusion center; specific counseling, and ongoing patient education and support. We also train other medical professionals in the community and around the country. In addition, because we're an academic medical center, our patients have access to cutting edge clinical research trials for MS-many of which have been developed right here at Stony Brook.

For more information about the Stony Brook MS Comprehensive Care Center, call (631) 444-2599 or visit StonyBrookNeurosciences.org

For Additional Information Contact (631) 444-4000

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Stony Brook Medicine University Physicians provides marketing advice and consultation to the clinical Faculty associated with the University Faculty Practice Corporations (UFPCs). It does not provide medical care directly or indirectly nor does it oversee, direct, manage or supervise the medical care provided by any of the individual Practices. The individual Practices are responsible for the medical care each Practice provides to its patients. Please note that the Practices listed below are separate University Faculty Practice Corporations (UFPCs).