Discover what multiple sclerosis is, the symptoms to look out for and what advances in treatment could stop the condition from progressing
Until 1993, multiple sclerosis (MS) was untreatable. Thanks to incredible research developments, a range of options exists today for many who are diagnosed. But with lots of people still without treatment, the MS Society plans to take its research discoveries and transform them into new treatments that slow or even stop disability progression in the future.
What is multiple sclerosis?
MS is a condition that affects more than 100,000 people in the UK and is almost three times more common in women than men. In people with MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks a fatty substance called myelin – the protective coating around the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. The damage caused disrupts the messages that travel along your nerves and so it can affect how you see, move, think and feel, depending on which part of the central nervous system is being attacked.
The cause is not known, but may be a combination of genetics and environmental factors. It may also be influenced by lifestyle, including smoking, being very overweight or low in vitamin D. People are most likely to experience first symptoms in their twenties and thirties, but these can also appear later in life.
What are the symptoms?
There are three types of MS – relapsing, primary progressive and secondary progressive. If you have relapsing MS, there will be times when symptoms are not as bad or you are symptom-free. About 85 per cent of people have this type at diagnosis, but it often turns into secondary progressive MS where the disability gets steadily worse. With primary progressive MS, the symptoms become worse over time, often without relapses.
There is a wide range of symptoms and not everyone will have all of them. Common symptoms include loss of balance and dizziness, stiffness or spasms, tremor (rhythmic trembling or shaking), fatigue, pain, bladder problems, bowel trouble, such as constipation and bowel incontinence, vision problems and difficulties with memory and thinking. If you are concerned that you have MS, see your GP as a starting point. They will not be able to give you an instant diagnosis – if MS is a possibility, you would see a neurologist for further investigations, such as blood tests and MRI scans.
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