Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic (long-term) condition affecting the brain and the spinal cord, causing various symptoms, including vision problems, difficulty walking and fatigue.
MS is where the protective coating (myelin sheath) around the nerves in your brain and spinal cord (your central nervous system) is damaged due to inflammation. This affects how well your nerves can conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain. This causes various symptoms, depending on which nerves are damaged.
MS affects over 100,000 people in the UK. It’s typically first diagnosed in young adults and is more common in women.
MS is a lifelong condition. Most people (nine in 10) find their symptoms can come and go – this is called relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). Others find their symptoms are permanent and gradually get worse – this is called progressive MS. Half of people who have RRMS go on to develop progressive MS, with or without relapses, which is called secondary progressive MS (SPMS).
Over time, symptoms can cause serious disability.
There’s no cure for MS, but treatments are available which can help flare-ups (periods when symptoms are worse), ease symptoms and even slow the progress of the disease.
There are many symptoms associated with MS, though most people will only experience a few of them. The most common MS symptoms include:
Diagnosis for MS can be difficult because many of the symptoms are non-specific, meaning they’re associated with other diseases. There’s no single test, so you may have a combination of:
MS is an autoimmune disease, meaning your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in your body. In MS, your immune system attacks nerve cells in your central nervous system, causing inflammation and breakdown of the protective myelin sheath around these nerves.
No one knows for sure why MS happens in some people and not others, but it could be a combination of:
Relapses or flare-ups can occur for no apparent reason, though triggers may be:
Although there’s no cure, symptoms can often be eased through various treatments.
Not all medications will be suitable for everyone – a medication that works for some people may not work in others.
Other therapies which may help include: