What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong condition that affects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).

MS affects different people in different ways. In any one person, the symptoms can vary from day to day. It is not fatal and most people with MS live about as long as everyone else.

There is a wide range of possible symptoms. Some of the most common for people who are newly diagnosed are fatigue (a kind of exhaustion), stumbling more than before, unusual feelings in the skin (such as pins and needles or numbness), slowed thinking or problems with eyesight.

Not everyone experiences all of them.

Find out more:

Why did I get MS?

People often ask what causes MS.

You might wonder:

  • Did I do something wrong?
  • Could I have stopped MS from happening?

The answer to these questions is no!

The causes of MS are not well understood but it seems that a number of different factors add up to trigger the condition. Some of these factors are in the world around us (possibly including lack of sunshine and vitamin D).

Did I get MS from my parents? Will I pass it to my kids?

MS is not inherited in a predictable way like some conditions and most people have no previous family history of MS. Some genes make it more likely that someone gets MS but having these genes is definitely not enough on its own.

Find out more:

Are there different types of MS?

There are three main types of multiple sclerosis:

  • Relapsing remitting MS (RRMS)
  • Primary progressive MS (PPMS)
  • Secondary progressive MS (SPMS)

Your neurologist may have told you which type of MS you have. The majority of people are diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS but 10-15% of people have primary progressive MS. Only a very small number will be diagnosed with secondary progressive MS.

If you don't know your type of MS

You could make a note to ask your neurologist or MS nurse at your next appointment although they may not know yet.

Deciding the type of MS can take some time but keeping a diary, with brief notes on any new or more troublesome symptoms, can help your MS team work out your type of MS.

More about Making Sense of MS

Making Sense of MS is our suite of resources for people who have recently been diagnosed with MS

Order our free booklet for people recently diagnosed with MS or read it as a PDF

View all our newly diagnosed resources and order them in print for free or read them as PDFs

Visit the home page for people newly diagnosed with MS to browse information online

Browse our video collection which features people with MS talking about their diagnosis and also MS specialist health professionals 

Last Updated: 14 March 2016

This page will be reviewed within three years