Multiple sclerosis (MS) damages parts of the central nervous system, and these areas of damage are called lesions.

MS is a neurological disease. It causes the immune system to attack and destroy myelin — protective fatty tissue that surrounds nerve cells.

This process, called demyelination, forms lesions in areas of the central nervous system, including parts of the brain and spinal cord.

In this article, we take a closer look at the link between multiple sclerosis and spinal lesions.

a woman holding her head because she has fatigue due to ms lesions on her spineShare on Pinterest
A person with MS may experience fatigue, dizziness, and vertigo.

MS is an autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system.

It causes the immune system to attack the protective layer of fat, called the myelin sheath, around nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

This slows down the nerves’ impulses, causing symptoms that may either worsen steadily, in which case they are “progressive,” or come and go, in which case the symptoms are “relapsing-remitting.”

The body may never fully repair the damage, which can lead to scarring. Damaged areas, called lesions, can occur in parts of the brain and spinal column.

Some people with MS have a stable condition, others experience symptoms that worsen rapidly, and still others have symptoms that resolve spontaneously.

A person with the “classic” presentation of MS will experience:

  • changes in sensations
  • weakness
  • changes in vision

Doctors use various techniques to diagnose MS, including MRI scans and neurological exams.

They often find MS lesions in the periventricular white matter of the brain, the optic nerves, or the spinal cord.

A contrast MRI can help doctors see the lesions and tell when they developed.

On their own, no symptoms, physical findings, or laboratory tests can point to MS.

For a doctor to diagnose the disease, they must find:

  • evidence of damage in at least two areas of the central nervous system — including the brain, spinal cord, or optic nerves
  • evidence that the damage occurred in different areas at different times
  • no indication that other issues, such as an infection or stroke, caused the lesions

Neuromyelitis optica, or Devic’s disease, is another demyelinating condition of the spine and optic nerve. In its early stages, it can be easily mistaken for MS.

Lesions on the spine and in the brain indicate damage to the myelin that protects nerve cells. This is a sign of MS.

One function of myelin is to help the nerves send impulses. Without myelin, the nerves’ impulses travel more slowly.

Researchers have studied the patterns of lesions in the central nervous systems of people with either progressive or relapsing-remitting MS.

They demonstrated that people with primary progressive MS have more spinal cord lesions than brain lesions.

The researchers also noted that those with more spinal cord lesions experienced more physical disability.

In addition, the findings suggest that spinal cord involvement predicts worse neurological outcomes. The researchers also observed impaired repair mechanisms and recurrent demyelination in the spinal lesions.

A person’s symptoms depend on where MS lesions develop.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, some symptoms of MS include:

  • pain and itching
  • numbness or tingling
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • dizziness and vertigo
  • sexual dysfunction
  • trouble walking
  • spasticity
  • vision problems
  • bladder problems
  • bowel problems
  • behavioral and learning difficulties
  • depression

Less common symptoms include difficulties speaking, swallowing, and breathing.

Also, some people with MS experience electrical sensations running through their spine and limbs.

No two people have the same combination of MS symptoms. Also, a person’s symptoms can change from day to day or from flare-up to flare-up.

Doctors can prescribe steroids to help reduce inflammation, which can reduce symptoms. However, this is not a cure, and it cannot prevent the symptoms from returning.

Another goal of MS treatment is to prevent further damage to nerve cells. Injectable, oral, and infusion medications can help slow the progression of the disease.

Some injectable treatments include interferon beta-1a, interferon beta-1b, and glatiramer acetate. Oral treatments include teriflunomide, fingolimod, and siponimod.

Anyone who believes that they are experiencing any symptoms of MS should see a doctor. Initial symptoms could involve unexplained weakness and sensory changes.

Receiving treatment early on could slow the progression of MS.

People experiencing mild flare-ups may not require medical attention, as the symptoms may go away without treatment. However, anyone with more severe symptoms should see a doctor.

Multiple sclerosis is a complex disorder that involves the immune system attacking the protective coating of nerves, forming areas of damage called lesions.

A person with MS may have lesions in parts of the brain, spinal cord, or optic nerve. Limited research suggests that having these lesions on the spine may lead to worse neurological outcomes of MS.

Symptoms of MS can differ from person to person and from day to day. A range of medications can help slow the progression of the disease, but there is no cure for MS yet.