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MS is problem with the immune system called an autoimmune disease. Instead of targeting only bacteria, viruses, and other invaders, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. In MS, it attacks the brain and spinal cord.

Doctors still don’t understand why people get the disease, but genetics, a person’s environment, and possibly even viruses may play a role.

Researchers think MS may be a condition that parents can pass to their children through genes. First-, second- and third-degree relatives of people with the disease have a higher risk of getting it.

Some scientists think people might get multiple sclerosis because they’re born with genes that make their bodies react to a trigger in the environment. Once they’re exposed to it, their immune system starts targeting their own tissues.

Some studies also have suggested that many viruses — such as those for measles, herpes, and the flu — may be linked with MS. But there’s no clear proof of a connection so far.

The first warning signs of MS can be dramatic — or so mild that a person doesn’t even notice them.

The most common early symptoms include:

Loss of balance
Weakness in one or more limbs
Blurred or double vision

Less-common warning signs may be:

Slurred speech
Suddenly not being able to move part of your body, called paralysis
Lack of coordination
Problems with thinking and processing information

As the disease gets worse, other symptoms may include heat sensitivity, fatigue, and changes in thinking.

MS is not considered a fatal disease. And you can’t catch it from someone else.

If other people in your family have the disease, you may be more likely to get it at some point.