It’s MS Awareness Week. And our health writer Jackie Mitchell talks to Sarah Rawlings, from the MS Society charity to find out more.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. It affects over 130,000 people in the UK. In MS, the coating that protects the nerves (myelin) is damaged, and this causes a range of symptoms such as blurred vision or problems with movement.
“The symptoms of MS are caused by the immune system attacking the nerves by mistake,” Sarah Rawlings from the MS Society charity explains. “This makes it harder to do everyday tasks such as walk, talk, eat and think.
“We don’t know why people develop MS, but research suggests there is no one thing that, on its own, will cause it. It’s likely to be triggered by a mix of genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors.”
Most Common Type Of MS
The most common type of MS, which affects 85% of people with the condition, is relapsing MS. This is when a person will experience attacks of symptoms that usually fade away. Many people with relapsing MS progress to secondary progressive MS many years later. And this means they have a build-up of disability over time.
The third type of MS is primary progressive MS. And this affects 10 to 15% of people with the condition, where, from the beginning, symptoms worsen over time rather than appearing as sudden attacks.
MS affects everyone differently.
It Can Develop At Any Age
“Even if you have the same type of MS as someone else, you probably won’t experience the symptoms in the same way. It can develop at any age.
“Some of the most common signs include fatigue, vision and balance issues. And there can also be bladder problems and troubles with memory or thinking.
“It’s important to remember that many symptoms of MS can also be symptoms of other conditions.”
It’s diagnosed by a neurologist via several tests, which could include blood tests and an MRI. If you suspect you have MS, consult your GP, who can make an initial assessment and refer you to a specialist.
Different Ways To Manage MS
“Everyone with MS should ask their neurologist and health team about what treatments are available for them,” Sarah says.
There are different ways to manage MS, including drugs, exercise, diet and other lifestyle changes. And while disease modifying therapies (DMTs) aren’t a cure for MS, they can slow down the damage it causes. DMTs are usually taken as a pill, injection or an infusion.
“While DMTs are the most effective treatment against MS, many people with MS find other things help, such as diet, exercise or giving up smoking,” Sarah says.
Exercise videos can be found on the MS Society website. Complementary and alternative therapies can help, too, including reflexology, massage and Tai Chi.
Raising Awareness About Multiple Sclerosis
The MS Society supports everyone living with MS through its network of UK-wide local groups, online forums, research and information. It’s currently running the “Stop MS Appeal” to raise £100m to find treatments to slow or stop the effects of MS. There are also MS Walks this year in major cities across the UK you can take part in and fundraise.
“We can see a future where no-one needs to worry about their MS getting worse,” Sarah adds. Visit www.mssociety.org.uk or call the free MS helpline on 0808 800 8000 for more information.
Jackie Mitchell has a health column each week in The People’s Friend magazine and more health advice can be found on our website.