Multiple Sclerosis also known as MS is a condition that can affect the spinal cord and/or the brain.
MS can cause a wide range of potential symptoms including problems with, arm and leg movement, balance and vision.
Multiple Sclerosis is a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability but it can also be mild in some cases.
Its estimated that over 127,000 people are diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in the UK. Diagnosis is most common in people in their 20’s and 30’s however MS can develop at any age with women being 2-3 times more likely to develop MS than men.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
There are two types of MS; relapsing remitting MS and primary progressive MS.
Relapsing Remitting MS
Someone diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS will have episodes of new or worsening symptoms known as relapses. These symptoms and relapses can often occur without warming and typically worsen over a few days or weeks and will slowly improve over a similar time period.
More than 8 out of 10 people living with Multiple Sclerosis will be diagnosed with the relapsing remitting of MS. Periods between relapses are known as periods of remission and these can last for years at a time. Around half of all people living with relapsing remitting MS do go onto develop secondary progressive MS within 15 to 20 years and the risk of developing secondary progressive MS does increase the longer you are living with the condition. Secondary progressive MS is when symptoms gradually worsen over time without obvious relapses/attacks.
Primary Progressive MS
Primary progressive MS is a type of MS where symptoms gradually worsen and accumulates over several years. Although there are no periods of remission, people can have periods where their condition appears to stabilise. Just over 1 In 10 people living with MS start with primary progression MS.
What causes MS?
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune condition where something goes wrong with the immune system and it attacks a healthy part of the body. In the case of MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the brain and/or spinal cord of the nervous system. The condition attacks the layer that surrounds and protects the nerves called the myelin sheath.
As the immune system attacks the myelin sheath, it becomes damaged and scarred meaning messages travelling along the nerves become slowed and disrupted. It’s unclear as to why the immune system attacks the myelin sheath, but professionals believe that it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Symptoms of MS
Symptoms of MS can vary widely from person to person and can affect any part of the body, however the main symptoms include:
- Difficulty walking
- Problems with vision including blurred vision
- Numbness or tingling in different parts of the body
- Problems controlling the bladder
- Muscle stiffness and spasms
- Problems with thinking, learning and planning
- Problems with co-ordination and balance
Symptoms can vary depending on the type of MS a person is living with and can come and go in phases or gradually worsen with time.
How is MS treated?
There currently isn’t a cure for MS but there are a number of treatments that can help control the condition. Treatments do depend on the specific symptoms experienced and also the type of MS someone is living with.
Treatments may include:
- Steroid medication is offered for treating relapses to speed up recovery
- Disease-modifying therapies (medicines) can be used to reduce the number of relapses
- There are also specific treatments offered for individual MS symptoms
Disease-modifying therapies may help reduce the overall worsening of disability in people living with relapsing remitting MS and secondary progressive MS, however unfortunately there is currently no treatment that can slow the progress of primary progressive MS.
Multiple Sclerosis moving forward
MS can be a challenging condition to live with, but new treatments have improved the quality of life of people living with the condition over the past 20 years.
Although the average life expectancy of people living with MS is 5 to 10 years lower than average, the gap does seem to be getting smaller in time with new treatments being made available with ongoing research.
MS can be fatal with complications arising such as, infections in the bladder, chest and dysphagia but fatality is rare.
Where can I get help?
If you’re worried that you or a loved one may have the early signs of MS, its best to seek the advice of your GP. Your GP will ask questions on your symptoms and patterns of the symptoms that are being experienced.
If your GP thinks that you could have MS, you will be referred to a neurologist who will suggest that you undergo appropriate tests such as a MRI scan.
More information and advice
MS Trust and MS Society are the two main charities in the UK relating to Multiple Sclerosis. Both charities will be able to offer more in-depth information on MS, alongside news relating to ongoing research, blogs, chatroom’s/forums and information on ways to donate to research.