Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system. In MS the body’s immune system attacks myelin, which coats nerve cells. Symptoms of MS include muscle weakness (often in the hands and legs), tingling and burning sensations, numbness, chronic pain, coordination and balance problems, fatigue, vision problems, and difficulty with bladder control. People with MS also may feel depressed and have trouble thinking clearly.
MS is the most common disabling neurological disease affecting young adults. It generally strikes people ages 20 to 40 and more commonly affects women. It affects some 400,000 Americans, and about 2.5 million people worldwide. The most common form of the disease is called relapsing-remitting MS, in which symptoms come and go.
Although MS has no cure, some conventional treatments can improve symptoms, reduce the number and severity of relapses, and delay the disease’s progression. Many people with MS try some form of complementary health approach, often special diets (such as the Swank diet, which is low in saturated fats and high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as fish oils) and dietary supplements.
- Reflexology and yoga are generally considered safe.
- Acupuncture is considered to be safe when performed by a trained practitioner.
- Bee venom therapy may carry the risk of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
- Cannabinoid medications, which should only be taken when prescribed and monitored by a physician, are generally well tolerated. They may cause dizziness, anxiety, and short-term and long-term problems with memory and concentration. A small number of people may experience nausea/vomiting, constipation, and dry or sore mouth.
- Marijuana can be addictive.
- People who smoke marijuana frequently can have the same breathing problems faced by tobacco smokers (daily cough and phlegm, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk of lung infections); it also can affect the heart.
- If you’re considering a dietary supplement, remember that “natural” does not mean “safe.” Some dietary supplements may have side effects, and some may interact with drugs and other supplements. Taking too much of some supplements, such as vitamin D, can be harmful—and even life threatening.
For more information on MS, please see the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website, as well as the information available on MedlinePlus.
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NCCIH and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide tools to help you understand the basics and terminology of scientific research so you can make well-informed decisions about your health. Know the Science features a variety of materials, including interactive modules, quizzes, and videos, as well as links to informative content from Federal resources designed to help consumers make sense of health information.
A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed.
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