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MS is a chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that disrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body. It is among the most common causes of neurological disability in young adults and occurs two to three times as much in women than men1. For most people with MS, episodes of worsening function (relapses) are initially followed by recovery periods (remissions). Over time, recovery may be incomplete, leading to progressive decline in function and increased disability1. Most patients experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 402.
What causes Multiple Sclerosis?
The cause of MS is still unknown6. Most researchers believe the cause is the body’s immune system incorrectly attacking and damaging myelin, the protective sheath around the nerve cells in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Repeated bouts of inflammation can leave a small scar (sclerosis) which can permanently damage nerve fibres. In a typical person with MS, many (multiple) small areas of scarring form in the nerve cells4. The damage can results in a difficult or impeded signalling between the brain and the rest of the body4. It is hypothesised that such assaults may be linked to an unknown environmental trigger, perhaps a virus2 6.
It is estimated that about 2.5 million people around the world have MS3.
What are the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
MS can be difficult to diagnose. Since there is no single diagnostic test for MS, the diagnosis can be difficult, delayed or even incorrect. Symptoms are very varied: each person’s experience of MS is different and most people will only experience a small number of all the possible symptoms14. According to the MS Trust, 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."
Is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) becoming more common?
"Although more people are being diagnosed with MS today than in the past, the reasons for this are not clear. Likely contributors, however, include greater awareness of the disease, better access to medical care and improved diagnostic capabilities. There is no definitive evidence that the rate of MS is generally on the increase." - National Multiple Sclerosis Society
At which age do Multiple Sclerosis (MS) symptoms appear?
Less than 1 in 100 people with multiple sclerosis (MS) will experience symptoms before the age of 10. However, between 2 - 5 in every 100 people experience their first symptoms before the age of 18. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 but the number of people being diagnosed under the age of 18 is increasing5.
What are the different types of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
MS can be divided into three main types:
Relapsing remitting MS
For most people with MS, episodes of worsening function (relapses) are initially followed by recovery periods (remissions). This type of MS is called relapsing remitting MS (RMS)6.Some estimate that around 85% of people with MS have the relapsing remitting form9. This means that they will have periods when symptoms flare up aggressively followed by periods of recovery - the remission.
Secondary progressive MS
Secondary progressive MS is a more advanced form of the disease. Studies that have monitored people with MS over a long period of time suggest that in 10 years, half those people who were diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS will have developed secondary progressive MS8. Sometime people experience secondary progressive MS when they receive their diagnosis. People's experience of secondary progressive MS can vary widely.
Primary progressive MS
PPMS is characterised by steadily worsening function from the onset of symptoms, often without early relapses or remissions. Estimates place the figure at 10% of MS patients having this form9.
'Progressive' is the word used to describe the increase in disability in MS. Although disability increases in progressive MS, the rate at which this happens varies from person to person.