What is MS?
Once diagnosed, MS stays with you for life, but treatments and specialists can help you to manage the condition and its symptoms.
More than 100,000 people in the UK have MS. In the UK people are most likely to find out they have MS in their thirties, forties and fifties. But the first signs of MS often start years earlier.
Many people notice their first symptoms years before they get their diagnosis. MS affects almost three times as many women as men. Read the latest statistics on MS in the UK.
We don't know the cause and we haven't yet found a cure, but research is progressing fast.
What happens in MS?
To understand what happens in MS, it's useful to understand how the central nervous system works.
A substance called myelin protects the nerve fibres in the central nervous system, which helps messages travel quickly and smoothly between the brain and the rest of the body.
In MS, your immune system, which normally helps to fight off infections, mistakes myelin for a foreign body and attacks it. This damages the myelin and strips it off the nerve fibres, either slightly or completely, leaving scars known as lesions or plaques.
This damage disrupts messages travelling along nerve fibres – they can slow down, become distorted, or not get through at all.
As well as losing the myelin, there can sometimes be damage to the actual nerve fibres too. It's this nerve damage that causes the increase in disability that can occur over time.
The central nervous system links everything your body does, so MS can cause many different types of symptoms.
The specific symptoms that appear depend on which part of your central nervous system has been affected, and the job of the damaged nerve. That's why MS is different for everyone.
Download more information
What is MS (booklet)
PDF, 7.8 MB
Find support near me
From support groups to information events, there's lots of ways to connect with people who understand what life's like with MS.
The next research breakthrough is in reach
Your donation will help stop MS.
£10could buy vital lab supplies for MS researchers, helping them find ways to stop MS faster
£20could pay for lab equipment like petri dishes to grow bacteria important for studying the genetics of MS
£30could process one blood sample, giving us crucial information about genes that could lead to treatment breakthroughs
Every penny you give really does take us a step closer to stopping MS. Your donation will make a difference.