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. This causes a range of symptoms like blurred vision and problems with how we move think and feel.
Once diagnosed, MS stays with you for life, but treatments and specialists can help you to manage the condition and its symptoms.
More than 130,000 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.
What happens in MS?
To understand what happens in multiple sclerosis, 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.
What causes MS symptoms?
The central nervous system links everything your body does, so multiple sclerosis 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.
Symptoms could be problems with your:
But MS is different for everyone. Read about the first symptoms of MS.