Multiple Sclerosis: A Health Expert Explains

Shutterstock / Roman Samborskyi © Lady looking up symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis online

Our health writer Jackie Mitchell talks to Sarah Rawlings, from the MS Society charity to find out more about multiple sclerosis.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

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.  

Multiple Sclerosis symptoms

“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.

Treatments for MS

A foot massage showing relexology

Complementary therapies like reflexology can help Pic: Shutterstock / Kzenon

“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.  

Support for living with MS

The MS Society supports everyone living with MS through its network of UK-wide local groups, online forums, research and information.

“We can see a future where no-one needs to worry about their MS getting worse,” Sarah adds.

Visit or call the free MS helpline on 0808 800 8000 for more information on the support available. 

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Yvonne McKenzie

Yvonne works on the Features team and admits to being nosy, so loves looking after the Between Friends letters and finding out all about our lovely readers. She also looks after our health copy and enjoys writing about inspiring people that help make the articles in the magazine so interesting.