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MS Awareness week is a chance to raise awareness and speak up about the realities of living with MS.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a condition affecting the central nervous system, causing damage to myelin, the coating that protects nerves, including the brain and spinal cord. It causes a range of symptoms, such as blurred vision and problems with movement and sensation.

MS is a lifelong condition, but there are many treatments and techniques that can be put into place to help manage it and its symptoms. More than 130,000 people in the UK have MS, diagnosis usually occurs in 30s, 40s or 50s, but often the symptoms start years earlier. Women are almost 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with MS than men, and other factors such as smoking and teenage obesity can increase the risk of developing the condition.

What happens when someone has MS?

A substance called myelin protects nerve fibres and the central nervous system, this allows messages from the brain to travel quickly and efficiently to the rest of the body. MS occurs when the immune system mistakes myelin for a foreign body and attacks it. This strips myelin off the nerve fibres within the CNS to varying extents, leaving scars known as lesions or plaques.

Damage to myelin disrupts the messages travelling along nerve fibres, this disruption can cause messages to travel more slowly, become distorted or even stop them from getting through at all. As well as damage to myelin, over time, MS can also cause damage to nerve fibres themselves, increasing a person’s level of disability.

MS Symptoms

The central nervous system carries messages from the brain to everywhere else in the body, MS can disrupt any part of this function, so can cause a wide variety of symptoms. Symptoms will depend on the specific actions of the damaged nerves and how severe this damage is.


A very common symptom of MS is experiencing vision problems. Symptoms may include painful eye movements and temporary vision loss (optic neuritis), double vision (diplopia) and involuntary eye movements (nystagmus). Most people make a good recovery from their vision problems, for those who do not, there is practical help and support available.

Balance & Movement

Balance and movement problems, as well as dizziness are all common symptoms of MS. These problems can lead to difficulties with coordination, muscle tremors, weakness, stiffness and spasms. These symptoms can lead to difficulty or inability to walk or move in a way that allows full independence with day-to-day tasks. These[U1]  symptoms can be improved with various therapies and treatments.

Memory & Thinking

Around half of people with MS find that they have difficulty thinking clearly or remembering things. These cognitive problems are usually mild and symptoms can be managed with treatment. The symptoms usually include difficulty finding the right words or recalling things quickly. These symptoms are often so mild that they go unnoticed by the person’s family, but can lead to frustration and increased stress levels.


Stress, anxiety and depression are commonly felt by those with MS. This can have a knock-on affect on their MS symptoms, often heightening them. These emotional changes may be a direct symptom of the damage MS causes or due to the feeling of helplessness as the condition progresses. These symptoms should be discussed with your healthcare professional who will be able to offer practical advice and treatment.

Types of MS

There are three types of MS, upon diagnosis, a neurologist will often categorise a person’s MS into one of these types, but it is not an exact science, and the categorisation may change in the early days after diagnosis.

Relapsing remitting MS is a type of MS that is characterised by symptoms getting worse, followed by recovery. This recovery could be complete or partial, leaving some permanent symptoms behind. Around 85% of people with MS are diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS.

Secondary progressive MS is often the stage after relapsing remitting MS. When a person’s MS progresses to this stage, they will no longer experience a remitting stage and their disability will gradually get worse with each new symptom.

Primary progressive MS is a type of MS where there is never a remitting stage, each new symptom stays causing a gradual increase in disability. People are usually diagnosed with this type of MS in their 40s.

MS Treatments & Therapies

There are many different treatments for MS and as the condition is different for everyone, these treatments may vary greatly depending on the severity of a person’s MS. It is best to speak to a specialist neurologist who will be able to give the best advice on what treatments and therapies will be best to manage MS symptoms and progression.

Therapies, such as physiotherapy, can be useful for managing and improving the symptoms of MS by helping with muscle control, tremors and spasms. Additionally, there are others, such as disease moderating therapies and haematopoietic stem cell transplantation that are designed to manage the damage MS does.

There are also practical ways to improve MS symptoms, with many people maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating healthily, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and giving up smoking. All of these have benefits to some of those with the condition, often improving mood, movement and overall health & wellbeing.

Looking to the Future

MS researchers work tirelessly to improve MS treatments, with the end goal of being able to stop MS for good. Improvements in MRI imaging have led to us to being able to detect small changes in the brain and spinal cord, which in turn, has allowed researchers to develop and test new MS drugs over shorter trial periods. This allows new drugs to be developed and released more quickly, benefitting more people with the condition.

There are many MS research facilities across the globe, researching and testing new treatments, risk factors and preventative methods, all with the end goal of stopping MS for good.


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