What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis, or MS for short, is a lifelong condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, which causes a wide range of symptoms. It is a progressive condition that normally gets more serious over time. Different people can experience different levels of severity and in the most extreme cases it can cause serious disability.

Depending on several factors, including how long you have had the condition and the type of MS you have, your symptoms may vary. They may also come and go in phases or get steadily worse.

The main symptoms include:

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Issues with mobility including difficulty walking
  • Problems with eyesight including blurred vision
  • Difficulty controlling the bladder
  • Pins and needles or numbness different parts of the body
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Problems with balance and co-ordination
  • Problems with problem solving, thinking, learning or planning.

What causes multiple sclerosis (MS)?

MS is a neurological disease in which the body’s immune system no longer recognises the special coating around the brain and spinal cord called the Myelin Sheath. Instead, it considers it to be a foreign body that needs to be removed, and as such the immune system attacks it.

This damages and scars the Mylein Sheath and in many cases also damages the underlying nerves. Following this damage, many of the messages travelling along the nerves become interrupted, slowed or disrupted.

Types of multiple sclerosis (MS)

There are two main types of MS:

  • Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). This is the most common form of multiple sclerosis.
  • Primary-progressive MS (PPMS)

Relapsing-remitting MS

More than 8 out of 10 people with MS have this form. This involves the sufferer experiencing episodes of new or worsening symptoms, known as relapses. The most common way this presents itself is with symptoms getting much worse over a standard period of time (this can be days, weeks or months), stagnating for a short period and then steadily improving over the same standard period of time.

Normally, relapses occur without any warning, but can be triggered by a seemingly unrelated period of illness or stress. The restful periods in-between the relapses are called periods of remission. After a number of decades most people living with this type of MS develop secondary progressive MS.

In this type of MS, symptoms gradually worsen over time without obvious attacks. Some people continue to have infrequent relapses during this stage.

Around half of people with RRMS will develop secondary progressive MS within 15 to 20 years, and the risk of this happening increases the longer you have the condition.

Primary progressive MS

This is a less common condition with about one in ten MS suffers experiencing this type.  Unlike relapsing-remitting MS there are no periods of remission, instead of it getting better and worse over time it simply progresses and continuously gets worse.

People usually become aware of this disease when they reach their 30s. It may not become noticeable for a considerable amount of time.

Prevalence of multiple sclerosis
It is estimated that in the UK, out of every 100,000 people there are about 190 cases of multiple sclerosis. Women make up about 2/3 of these, making them twice as likely to experience MS than men.

For more information or if you wish to discuss care for your loved one please email care@greensleeves.org.uk