The following facts are from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves. Surrounding and protecting the nerve fibers of the CNS is a fatty tissue called myelin, which helps nerve fibers conduct electrical impulses.
In MS, myelin is lost in multiple areas, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis. These damaged areas are also known as plaques or lesions. Sometimes the nerve fiber itself is damaged or broken.
Myelin not only protects nerve fibers, but makes their job possible. When myelin or the nerve fiber is destroyed or damaged, the ability of the nerves to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain is disrupted, and this produces the various symptoms of MS.
People with MS can expect one of four clinical courses of disease, each of which might be mild, moderate, or severe. MS is not contagious and is not directly inherited. Most people with MS have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.
The majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled. There are now FDA-approved medications that have been shown to "modify" or slow down the underlying course of MS.