Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most common diseases of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Today more than 2.8 million people around the world have MS.
MS is an inflammatory demyelinating condition. This means it is caused by damage to myelin – a fatty material that insulates nerves, acting much like the covering of an electric wire. Myelin allows a nerve to transmit its impulses rapidly. It is the speed and efficiency with which these impulses are conducted that permits smooth, rapid and co-ordinated movements to be performed with little conscious effort.
In MS, the loss of myelin (demyelination) is accompanied by a disruption in the ability of the nerves to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain. This produces the various symptoms of MS. The sites where myelin is lost (plaques or lesions) appear as hardened (scar) areas: in multiple sclerosis these scars appear at different times and in different areas of the brain and spinal cord. The term multiple sclerosis means ‘many scars’.
MS symptoms vary widely and include blurred vision, weak limbs, tingling sensations, unsteadiness and fatigue. For some people, MS is characterised by periods of relapse and remission while, for others, it has a progressive pattern. For everyone with MS, it makes life unpredictable.
Quick MS facts
- MS is a progressive disease of the central nervous system, for which there is no cure at present.
- More women than men have MS – it is two to three times more common in women than in men.
- MS is the most common disease of the central nervous system in young adults.
- MS is not directly hereditary, although genetic susceptibility plays a part in its development.
- MS is not contagious or infectious.
- Diagnosis of MS is generally between 20 and 40 years of age, although onset may be earlier.
- There are a wide range of symptoms, with fatigue being one of the most common.
- MS is more commonly found in countries further from the equator.
- There is no drug that can cure MS, but treatments are available which can modify the course of the disease.
- Many of the symptoms of MS can be successfully managed and treated.