The 22-28th of April is MS awareness week.
MS or Multiple Sclerosis affects 2,500,000 people worldwide and approximately 100 000 people in the UK live with MS.
What is MS?
Multiple Sclerosis is a lifelong condition that can cause mild to very severe disability, the symptoms are hugely unpredictable and vary significantly from person to person. It is a neurological condition that affects the brain and/or spinal cord. Symptoms can include difficulties in sight, balance, sensation and movement.
It is believed to be an autoimmune disease (your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy parts of your body). In MS, this attack is on the insulating covering around nerves called myelin. The resulting patches of damage to the nerves (sclerosis) in the brain and spinal cord mean that messages don’t get passed along the nerves very efficiently or, sometimes, may not get through at all. Symptoms will correspond to the areas of the brain and spinal cord that have been damaged.
It affects woman more often than men and is predominantly diagnosed in people aged 20-39 although people younger and older can also be affected. It isn’t infectious or contagious so you can’t pass it on to other people. MS is not a terminal illness however complications and severe disability can arise from it and is an incredibly challenging condition to live with.
MS has a very long list of symptoms and they can be completely different from one person to another, not all symptoms may be present at once and they may even change from day to day.
The most common symptoms can be categorised as follows:
- difficulty walking
- vision problems, such as blurred vision or blindness
- bladder and the bowel problems
- numbness or tingling in different parts of the body
- muscle stiffness and spasms
- problems with balance and co-ordination
- problems with thinking, learning and planning
- mood and emotional issues
- speech and swallowing problems
- pain – musculoskeletal and/or neuropathic
MS can be divided into three main types based on how the symptoms present – Relapsing Remitting MS, Secondary Progressive MS and Primary Progressive MS.
Relapsing Remitting MS presents as periods of “relapses” when symptoms become significantly worse or new symptoms occur. A relapse can last anywhere from a few days to a few months after which symptoms gradually improve again. Periods in-between relapses are called “remission” and they can last up too few years at a time. Most people with MS will have this type of MS, however Relapsing Remitting MS can eventually become Secondary Progressive MS which is similar in presentation to Primary Progressive MS.
Primary Progressive MS is identified by symptoms that gradually worsen and accumulate over several years, and there are no periods of remission, though people often have periods where their condition appears to stabilise. Very few people with MS will start with this type of MS.
At present there is no known cure for MS, only treatments to help control the symptoms of the condition however, due to the advances made in medical treatments people with MS are living longer, much better-quality lives.
If you suspect you may have symptoms of MS, do not hesitate to contact you GP about it.
For more in-depth reading you can visit the following pages:
Sources used: NHS choices, Multiple Sclerosis Trust, National Multiple Sclerosis Society