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Multiple sclerosis – NHS Choices

Posted: November 4, 2015 at 10:40 pm


Multiple sclerosis (MS) affectsnerves in the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of symptoms including problems with muscle movement, balance and vision.

Each nerve fibre in the brain and spinal cord is surrounded by a layer of protein called myelin, which protects the nerve and helps electrical signals from the braintravel to the rest of the body. In MS, the myelin becomes damaged.

This disrupts the transfer of these nerve signals, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, such as:

Read more about the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Around eight out of 10 people with MS are diagnosed with the relapsing remitting type of MS.

Someone with relapsing remitting MS will have flare-ups of symptoms, known as relapses. These can last from a few days to a few months.

These will be followed by periods where symptoms are mild or disappear altogether. This is known as remission and can last for days, weeks or sometimes months.

Usually after around 15 years, around half of people with relapsing remitting MS will go on to develop secondary progressive MS.

In secondary progressive MS, symptoms gradually worsen over time. Some people may still have relapses, but without full recovery from symptoms.

The least common form of MS is primary progressive MS.

In this type, symptoms gradually get worse over time and there are no periods of remission.

There is currently no cure for MS, but a number of treatments can help.

Relapsing remitting MS can be treated with disease-modifying drugs. These are designed to reduce the number of relapses someone has. They may also be able to slow the progression of MS.But they are not suitable for all people with MS.

Some of these drugs can also be used for treating secondary progressive MS, if someone is still experiencing relapses.

Currently, there is no treatment that can slow the progress of primary progressive MS.

Read more about the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

MS is known as an autoimmune condition. This is where something goes wrong with the immune system (the bodys defence against infection) and it mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue in this case, the myelin covering of nerves.

This can cause multiple sections of the brain and spinal column to become damaged and hardened (sclerosis), which can disrupt the nerve signals passing through these areas.

Exactly what causes the immune system to act in this way is unclear, but most experts thinka combination of genetic and environmental factors are involved.

Read more about the possible risk factors and causes of multiple sclerosis.

It is estimated there are currently around 100,000 people with MS in the UK.

MS is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 20-40, although it can happen at any age. Children can also get MS, although this is rare.

For reasons that are unclear, MS is three timesas common in women than men, and more common in white people than black and Asian people.

MS can be a challenging and frustrating condition to live with but new treatments over the past 20 years have considerably improved the quality of life of people with the condition.

MS is not fatal, but somecomplications that can arise from severe MS, such as pneumonia, can be.

As a result, the average life expectancy for people with MS is around five to 10 years lower than the population at large. This gap appears to be getting smaller, perhaps because of improved medical care.

There are a wide range of treatments and therapies, including physiotherapy, that can help relieve symptoms and make day-to-day living easier for people with MS.

It may be useful to readyour guide to care and support written for people with care and support needs, as well as their partners and relatives. It includes information and advice on:

There are three main MS charities in the UK:

These organisations offer useful advice, publications, news items about ongoing research, blogs and chatrooms.

It is highly recommended that you visit these websites if you, or someone you know, has just been diagnosed with MS.

There is also the website which is an online community for younger people affected by MS.

If you have multiple sclerosis you should have a flu jab every year. Find out why and how

Page last reviewed: 03/04/2014

Next review due: 03/04/2016

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Multiple sclerosis - NHS Choices

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