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What is Multiple Sclerosis? (MS)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the brain and spinal cord which affects different people in different ways. Find out more about this condition.

What is MS?

MS is a condition that affects the body’s central nervous system (CNS). By the latest estimates, over 2.8 million people worldwide have MS.

It’s a disorder that causes your body’s immune system to attack myelin, a coating that insulates some of your nerve fibers. This process is known as demyelination. When myelin is damaged or destroyed, it affects the nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide variety of symptoms in MS.

What are the effects of MS?

Multiple sclerosis can cause life-changing symptoms, including extreme fatigue, numbness, tingling, pain, tremors, slurred speech, loss of balance and muscle coordination, visual disturbance and muscle weakness.

MS is three times more common in women than men and the diagnosis usually comes in the prime of someone’s life, typically between the ages of 20 and 40.

MS can be a potentially devastating condition with a profound effect on the quality of life. We’re getting closer to understanding what causes it – most likely a combination of lifestyle and environmental factors as well as genetics.

While there is currently no cure, there is hope for a brighter, healthier future.

Symptoms of MS

When searching for the causes of various symptoms online, many sources will refer to MS in the list of possible diagnoses. The symptoms often attributed to MS can also be caused by many other conditions, so it is important that a specialist makes a diagnosis of MS.

If you have recently been diagnosed with MS, one of the first symptoms you may have experienced is a problem with your vision. You may have previously noticed other symptoms like dizziness or fatigue, but these are often dismissed.

People with multiple sclerosis can experience a wide range of symptoms, and have different symptoms at different times — you may not experience any of the symptoms that others do, and no two people with MS will have exactly the same experience.

Typical symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • MS spasticity
  • Vision problems
  • Walking (gait) difficulties
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Cognitive symptoms
  • Bladder spasms and MS
  • MS vertigo
  • Bowel problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Depression

It can feel overwhelming to see a long list of possible symptoms, but there are so many ways in which you can manage your symptoms and their progression with the Overcoming MS Program.

Causes of MS

With people who have an underlying genetic predisposition towards MS, it can be triggered by things such as:

  • Lack of sunlight and vitamin D – the risk of MS increases directly as you move further north or south of the Equator. As soon as you are diagnosed with MS make sure your vitamin D levels are tested.
  • Smoking – people who smoke are twice as likely to develop MS compared with those who don’t smoke, and their MS tends to progress more quickly.
  • Viral infections – such as the Epstein-Barr virus (responsible for glandular fever)
  • Females are at higher risk – women are up to three times more likely to develop MS than men
  • Close family members and children of people living with MS are at an increased risk of developing MS themselves, but luckily there are steps that can be taken to reduce your overall risk.

What you can do:

  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Make sure you get enough sun exposure and supplement with vitamin D (5,000 IU per day in winter)
  • Keep your stress levels down
  • Eat a healthy diet low in saturated fat, and supplement with flaxseed oil.

There is a lot of information on this website about optimising your wellbeing to live well with MS.

Treatment of MS

MS varies from person to person — from its different symptoms to how quickly it progresses, so the combination of MS treatments will vary depending on your needs.

Treatment for MS may include:

  • MS medication — disease modifying drugs
  • Medication to manage symptoms
  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational therapy can help you make adaptations to make everyday tasks easier
  • Self-management techniques such as learning to pace yourself
  • Aids, assistive devices and equipment
  • A speech therapist to help you if you have trouble with speech
  • Stress management techniques
  • Talking therapies for depression
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Vitamin D — which dampens overactive immune responses and also protects brain cells

Take a look at our individual symptoms pages to read about what specific treatments can help with certain symptoms. The Overcoming MS Program combines all these treatments for the most comprehensive approach, improving your overall physical and mental wellbeing.

There can be a lot of benefits to finding an MS community of like-minded people to help you live well with MS. You can join our community on the Live Well Hub here.

Living with MS

With the shock of being diagnosed with MS, you may feel a sudden lack of control. Overcoming MS aims to change that by showing you that you have control over the measures you take to help yourself. It’s never too late to see the benefit of lifestyle changes through the Overcoming MS Program — by making positive changes, over time you will see that you are more capable and much stronger than you think. There are steps you can take to improve your health by making changes in the following areas:

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Making sure you get enough sunlight and vitamin D
  • Stress reduction, including meditation.

Join our community on the Live Well Hub here and connect with others looking to live well with MS.

Overcoming MS pattern

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You can still do many of the things you love with MS, you may just need to adapt — and crucially, know that you are not alone.

Overcoming MS helps inform, support and empower everyone affected by MS. Our community is here to support and encourage you. Our vision is a world in which every person with MS is empowered to take control of their health, make informed lifestyle choices and is living a full and healthy life. You can become part of our global Overcoming MS community by joining the Live Well Hub or joining a Circle. For inspiration, you can read about members in our community who have positive stories to share and you can also listen to our Living Well podcast and explore any questions you may have.

If you have any further questions or information, you can also contact us directly here.

Watch the video below to learn more about MS:

Overcoming MS pattern

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