What is MS?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a long-term condition that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves. Surrounding and protecting the nerve fibres of the CNS is a fatty tissue called myelin, which helps nerve fibres conduct electrical impulses around the body. In MS, myelin is lost in multiple areas, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis. These damaged areas are also known as plaques or lesions. Sometimes the nerve fibre itself is damaged or broken. Myelin not only protects nerve fibres, it also makes their job possible, so when either myelin or the nerve fibre is destroyed or damaged, the ability of the nerves to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain is disrupted, and this produces the various symptoms of MS. MS can have many different effects on patients and their families. The increasing level of disability and symptoms experienced by many patients can affect working, family and social life.
Types of MS
There are four types of MS, each with its own characteristics, but each as unpredictable as the other. It might not be clear which type of MS you have when you are first diagnosed. However, by noting changes over time, your neurologist should be able to clarify the type you have.
If you have a small number of relapses followed by a complete recovery, you may be described as having benign MS. It is only possible to make a diagnosis of benign MS once you have experienced little or no disability for a period of 10 to 15 years. However, a diagnosis of benign MS does not guarantee that you will be free of problems; a relapse may occasionally occur after many years in which your MS has been inactive.
Relapsing Remitting MS
Most people are diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS. This is when you have relapses (a flare-up of symptoms), followed by remissions (periods of recovery). Relapses are unpredictable. They can last for days, weeks or months and vary from mild to severe. During a relapse you will either experience new symptoms, or a recurrence or worsening of previous symptoms. During remission, symptoms can disappear completely, though sometimes people make only a partial recovery. Symptoms might not always be due to a new relapse. For example, exercise or hot weather can sometimes raise body temperature and make symptoms temporarily worse. Any changed or new symptoms must last for at least 24 hours to be described as a relapse.
Primary Progressive MS
With primary progressive MS, symptoms steadily worsen, resulting in a continued progression in disability. You will not have distinct relapses and remissions.
Secondary Progressive MS
Most people who have relapsing remitting MS later develop a form known as secondary progressive MS. This type of MS is identified when your condition becomes steadily worse, and your disability progresses, for a period of six months or more, whether you continue to have relapses or not.
There are several places that you can go to get more information about MS, symptoms, treatment options and advice about living with the condition.
They offer help and advice to people with MS. As well as campaigning for new treatments they run a helpline Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm excluding bank holidays. Call 0800 800 8000 or if you are a textline user dial 18001 0808 800 8000.
They provide trusted information to help people with MS live the best life possible. Check out their resources section for lots of helpful information about symptoms, treatments and latest research.
An online community for younger people with MS. Shift.ms aims to create a positive, enabling community for people with MS which empowers them to acknowledge their MS, rethink how to achieve their ambitions and get on with their lives.
Provides support, information, advice and services for the millions of people caring at home for a family member or friend. Their Network Partners reach carers of all ages and with a range of responsibilities, in their local communities. From helping carers to access local services, to making their views heard by opinion-formers and professionals, together they help carers to connect with everyone and everything that can make a difference to their lives.
Carers Bucks is part of Carers Trust (national network of Carers Centres around the UK). Commissioned by Buckinghamshire County Council, Carers Bucks is a countywide charity offering support to adult carers and young carers. They support the health and wellbeing of unpaid carers and supports unpaid carers of all ages and in different caring roles. These caring roles include young carers, young adult carers and older carers. They provide a number of services for the benefit of carers in Buckinghamshire, including a Caring for Older Carers (75+) service, parent carer training, young adult carers support and a Carers Lounge at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. All services are free to carers.