What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis, more commonly known as MS, is a disease suffered by around 100,000 people in the UK, with 5000 new diagnoses each year.

That equates to 1 in every 600 people in the UK suffering from the disease.

It ranges from mild cases to being totally debilitating and disabling. This article outlines the symptoms, treatment, and causes of MS, as well as offering some advice on how to live with the condition.

Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Normally diagnosed in a person’s 20s or 30s, MS is around three times more common in women that it is in men. The life expectancy of people with MS is slightly lower than that of people without it, but the gap is closing every year.

The symptoms of MS are wide-ranging and can affect any part of the body. They are also very random, coming and going in some people and getting progressively worse for others.

Some of the more common symptoms of MS include:

  • Fatigue
  • Vision issues
  • Pain
  • Sexual problems
  • Bladder and bowel complications
  • Mobility problems
  • Muscular problems (stiffness, spasms, or weakness)
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Speech/swallowing complications
  • Problems with thinking, planning, and learning

Which symptoms manifest in a particular case depend on which area of the body is afflicted with MS. For example, problems with thinking generally occur in cases where the brain is attacked by the condition, whereas muscle pains will more likely occur in cases where the muscular system is attacked.

What Causes MS?

The exact cause of Multiple Sclerosis is uncertain. Consensus currently favours the hypotheses that both environmental and genetic factors cause it, but scientists can only guess to which extent each factor contributes to the risk of development.

What is known is that MS is an autoimmune disease. This is a kind of condition where the body mistakes a bit of itself as being a foreign body; the immune system attacks its own body in the same way it fights off a virus.

MS is a particularly nasty autoimmune disorder because it targets the Myelin Sheath of nerve cells, the part of the cell that protects the electrical signals being sent through the body.

This causes an inflammation on the cell which disrupts, redirects, or outright halts the signal, resulting in the symptoms of MS. When the inflammation dies down, it leaves behind scarring on the sheath, known as sclerosis. Over time, this can cause permanent damage to the nerve.

All said we do know some things about the factors that contribute to MS. We know that a sibling or child of someone with MS has a 2-3% of developing it themselves. We also know that smokers are twice as likely to develop the condition as non-smokers. Likewise, being obese during the teenage years has been linked to developing the condition in later life.

A few other factors, such as vitamin D levels or certain viral infections, have been suggested. However, it is unknown what effect vitamin D substances actually have on curing the condition, and no clear links between viruses and the condition have been proven scientifically.

How is Multiple Sclerosis Treated?

Due to us not fully understanding how MS is caused, there is no definitive cure. The treatment of MS usually revolves around treating symptoms and attempting to reduce the number of future relapses.

A specialist MS nurse will lead a team that supports the treatment of the patient’s condition, which may include neurologists, physiotherapists, and speech therapists, amongst others. The particular makeup of a support team will be determined by which symptoms the patient typically express during episodes of MS.

Often, being prescribed a treatment of steroids can speed up the recovery process of a particular relapse, although these medications do nothing to prevent future relapses or improve the condition.

Reducing the number of relapses is done through the use of disease-modifying medications. The type of medicine in this category that is given differs on a case-to-case basis and is determined by specifics of the particular patient’s MS.

However, all of the medicines try to do broadly the same thing: reduce the amount of scarring of the Myelin Sheath.

The treatment of symptoms will focus on improving the quality of life and differs depending on which symptoms are suffered in a particular case.

For example, people suffering from fatigue may be prescribed sleeping pills, given a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or advice on how to manage sleeping patterns depending on the intensity of the symptom.

Similarly, people with muscular difficulties might be given home adaptations, anti-dizziness medications, exercise programs, or mobility aids to help manage these muscular difficulties. The important thing in all cases is to pay attention to the doctor or medical professional’s instructions.

Tips for living with MS

While MS will impact on the daily lives of the sufferer, being enabled and empowered to care for themselves is something which has been proven to improve the lifespan and quality of life of people with MS.

Stopping smoking can help slow the progression of MS, and scheduling regular reviews with your healthcare team helps to monitor the speed and spread of the condition. It also helps them to adapt your treatment plan if new symptoms are appearing.

Finally, maintaining a healthy diet has been shown to minimise the impact of some symptoms of MS, as well as improve mobility.

Tutorcare, the number one online training provider offers a Multiple Sclerosis Awareness course that covers the condition in more detail.

Further Reading:

The NHS website contains a lot of information about all aspects of MS:

The charity MS Society’s website contains information on how to get support for managing MS, as well as forums which can be used to network with others who suffer the condition: