Multiple sclerosis, often abbreviated to MS, is a neurological condition that affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system). 'Sclerosis' means scarring or hardening of tiny patches of tissue. 'Multiple' is added because this happens at more than one place in the brain and/or spinal cord. The damage to nerves seems to be due to the immune system mistakenly attacking the nerve coating which is made of a fatty protein called myelin.

MS is a lifelong condition. It is not fatal and most people with MS live about as long as everyone else. It is not infectious or contagious so it can't be passed on to other people like chicken pox or athlete’s foot.

MS is the most common condition of the central nervous system affecting young adults. Over 100,000 people in the UK have MS which is about one in every 600. It is nearly three times more common in women than in men. Most people are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s but it can be diagnosed in younger and older people.

There is a wide range of possible symptoms but most people experience only a small number around the time of diagnosis and won't go on to experience them all. The symptoms vary from one person to another and from day to day. This makes MS rather unpredictable.

Some of the most common symptoms around the time of diagnosis are fatigue (a kind of exhaustion which is out of all proportion to the task undertaken), stumbling more than before, unusual feelings in the skin (such as pins and needles or numbness), slowed thinking or problems with eyesight. All these symptoms can be symptoms of other conditions so it is important to see a health professional to get the correct diagnosis.

At the moment, there is no cure for MS but there is a wide range of possible treatments.

Last updated: 30 September 2015
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