Rough Guide

Trying to explain MS to your friends and family? Tricky, huh? Here’s our simple guide to share with them…

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition affecting approximately 2.5 million people around the world. Most (but not all) people are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s.

What are the causes of MS?

There are many theories, but no-one knows for sure. It’s widely accepted that MS is caused by your immune system attacking your central nervous system. It’s not clear why this happens, but researchers are continuously trying to find out.


What happens?

Your nerves are covered by something called ‘myelin’ – sometimes compared to the insulation that covers wires. It protects your nerves. In MS this covering is damaged.

Imagine your brain is a hi-fi, your hands are speakers and your nerves are the speaker wire. If the speaker wire has a damaged protective covering, sound quality may become crackly and unreliable.

The term ‘multiple sclerosis’ means ‘many scars’. These scars are called ‘lesions’. They can form anywhere on nerves in the spine and in the brain. Different symptoms can be experienced in different parts of the body, depending on where the scars have formed.

What are the symptoms of MS?

For some people, symptoms will come and go. For others it’s more continuous. MS affects people very differently.

Because it’s so varied, it’s difficult for neurologists or nurses to say what MSers may experience and when.

Some common symptoms are:

• Extreme tiredness (fatigue)

• Impaired vision

• Loss of balance and muscle coordination

• Stiffness in the limbs

• Difficulty walking

• Unexplained burning and numbness

• Incontinence

• Sexual dysfunction

Many of the symptoms are invisible, making it difficult for others to understand how an MSer is feeling.

If you know someone with multiple sclerosis, remember that they might be having a rough day, but it might not be obvious to an outsider.

What are the treatments for MS?

There are a range of drugs available to limit the effects of multiple sclerosis for people with relapse remitting MS, these focus on reducing attacks.

There are medications and therapies that can help symptoms to enable people to manage their lifestyle.

New drugs are continually being developed with very exciting prospects for the future.

Find out more about Multiple Sclerosis

No doubt you, your friends and family have lots more questions. Here are some useful places to go for further information:

The Forum   MS Reporters    A to Z of MS – MS Trust UK     Barts Research blog