When you've been diagnosed with MS, can it affect your work or education?

This resource aims to support you in working or studying with MS.

Will MS affect my work or education?

You can explore options and get support if you need them.

Many people are diagnosed with MS in their 20s or 30s when they may be building their career or studying for qualifications. Others will be diagnosed later but may be thinking about a big career move or have wide ranging responsibilities. You may be concerned that MS could affect your plans.

MS is different for each person so it's difficult to say for certain if it will affect your work or education. It will depend on what type of symptoms you experience, how much impact they have and what kind of work you do. For example, if you do a physically demanding job then physical symptoms may be more of a problem. If you are in education or an office job, where you need to have a good memory and quick thinking, then cognitive symptoms that slow your thinking may have more impact.

Should I quit?

Almost certainly not. On receiving your diagnosis, others may advise you to stop working. This could be because they don't understand your MS or because they want to protect you from stress. However, many people with MS never experience symptoms severe enough to stop them working. People who make big changes or leave the workforce soon after diagnosis, or their first major relapse, may regret it later.

Should I do something differently?

Perhaps. You may want to make changes or you may need to make changes if your symptoms are troublesome. For some people, change will be a priority but others will carry on exactly the same as before their diagnosis.

Being diagnosed with MS can be the prompt to review your life, just as often happens with people diagnosed with other conditions. You might like to think about your work-life balance. Is it where you'd like it to be? Do you have unfulfilled ambitions? Would you like more time with your children? Would you like to take your life down a different path from the one you've taken so far?

These are huge questions and will take some time to think through. Take your time and seek advice, where appropriate.

The legal bit

The Equality Act gives legal protection to people who find that they are discriminated against at work, when buying goods or accessing services. It also applies to education.

The Act includes people with MS from the point of diagnosis even though they may not see themselves as disabled at all.

It is important because employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to support someone with MS to stay in work. This could include a gradual increase in hours when returning to work after a relapse, rather than being expected to return full time straight away. It could mean having a dedicated parking place near the entrance so that someone with fatigue or walking difficulties has less distance to walk. It could mean more flexible working hours or simply a desk in a cooler or quieter part of the office. To obtain this support, you would need to tell your employer about your diagnosis.

Any adjustments should be reviewed from time to time and can be modified if your needs change. They can be flexible so that you can have more support when you need it most, for example, after a relapse. You may not need any adjustments or protection but it can be good to know where the law stands.

Find out more:

Talking about your MS

You will need to think about when to tell people about your diagnosis.

In some jobs, for example if you are in the armed forces or drive a passenger or heavy goods vehicle, you will need to tell your employer straight away. Some jobs require a certain standard of medical fitness or eyesight. Check your contract, and any employee handbook, to see if anything like this applies to your job.

Otherwise, it's up to you but you may like to tell your manager and close colleagues if MS is having an impact on your work or if you will need adjustments or time off for appointments. Just like other people, your colleagues may be wondering what's happening or they could be misunderstanding your symptoms. You don't have to disclose your diagnosis and, if MS is having no impact on your work, you may choose to wait until the time feels right.

If you are in higher education or at school, you will also need to think about who you want to tell or need to tell.

Support at work

Not everyone with MS will need support at work but it can be good to be aware of what's available.

We have a resource called At work with MS which may help. The online version includes videos of people talking about MS in the workplace and worksheets that can help you work through any issues.

You might like to give a copy of the book, or send the link, to your manager or colleagues to help them understand MS in the workplace.

Support in further education

Most course providers have coordinators who can help.

If you are in further education, or considering college, you may like to think things through in a similar way to people in work. You might even find it useful to read At work with MS as some of the issues will be the same.

MS may not affect your studying or your college life. However, for some people, it can affect attendance especially if time off is needed for appointments or because of relapses. Also, some symptoms may make it more difficult to complete work.

You will need to consider telling your course provider about your diagnosis. Most higher education centres have good support and can give you access to disability coordinators and, sometimes, additional financial help. Your college or university website should have information about what's available locally, usually in the section for disabled students. You may feel uncomfortable about the 'disabled' label but try to go with the flow to get the information, and any support, that you need.

The UCAS website has information which will help you think through your options. Disability Rights UK has a range of resources including a publication called Into Higher Education which has details about accessibility, choosing courses, support and finance. If you'd like a hard copy you can order one free on 0800 328 5050 or by emailing students@disabilityrightsuk.org. They also have a telephone and email advice service as well as a range of factsheets about education for over 16s.

Support in school

Some people will be diagnosed with MS when they are still at school.

You may be worried that you will need time off for appointments or if you have a relapse. You may be wondering if your symptoms will make it harder to do your school work. MS may not affect your studying but you and your parents will need to talk about your diagnosis to the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) or Inclusion Officer at your school.

There will be support available, if you need it, from your teachers, your school and through the local education authority (usually the council) that runs your school. You might like to have a chat with your parents about what might make it easier for you at school now that you know what is causing your symptoms. For example, if you have problems concentrating, you may be allowed extra time in exams or be given a classroom assistant to help take notes in lessons. The school should talk to you and your parents about whether you need support and what would work best before anything is finally decided. If you are over 16, then some of the information in the section about further education will apply to you.

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 this information sheet in print for free 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 homepage 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: 30 August 2016

This page will be reviewed within three years