Photo: Family learning about MS at MS Life

What is MS?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that affects your brain and spinal cord. In MS, the coating that protects your nerves (myelin) is damaged, and this causes a range of symptoms.

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. People are most likely to be diagnosed with MS in their 40s and 50s. But 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.

MS symptoms

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.

Photo: People with MS and volunteers laughing

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.

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The next research breakthrough is in reach

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Every penny you give really does take us a step closer to stopping MS. Your donation will make a difference.

Photo: young girl with MS sits in hospital chair smiling at male nurse