Multiple sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system.
We know more about MS than ever before, and we've come to understand that all types of MS progress right from the start, even though you might not immediately notice any new symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to progress your knowledge of MS, so you can have informed discussions with your healthcare team.
Take an active role in how your MS is managed and be informed about the science behind MS – from the tests performed at diagnosis and the importance of keeping track of your symptoms – to understanding why symptom patterns differ so widely and what you can do to reduce the impact that MS has on your life.
Earlier diagnosis and subsequent treatment of MS can help slow down the progression of physical disability. It allows you to help keep your independence for longer and limit the impact MS has on the life you want to live.
An MS diagnosis doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It’s not ideal but nor are so many other things in life. Don’t let MS dictate to you, it doesn’t have the right to.
Here, we provide you with the tools, knowledge, and know-how to make your voice heard and take control of your MS, so you can enjoy life and look forward to the future.
This short video will introduce you to the key facts about MS and the effects it has on the body.
This is your brain.
[A diagram of a head and brain is shown]
It’s largely made up of nerve cells – around 90 billion of them that buzz with activity even when you’re sleeping.
[Nerve cells are shown arranged in a network, transmitting signals to each other]
Nerve cells are very social cells that love to connect.
[Two nerve cells are shown. They have a main body with branches, and a long tail that ends in smaller branches. The branches on the tail of one cell connect to the branches on the main body of another cell.
In fact, there are more connections between the nerve cells in your brain than there are stars in the Milky Way.
[A complex network of connected nerve cells is shown]
That’s quite a social network!
Nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord connect and communicate.
[A diagram of the brain and spinal cord are shown. Speech bubbles show them greeting each other to represent the communication between them]
Together with the nerves in your eyes, they make up your central nervous system, or CNS – the network operations centre of the body.
Much like your social network news stream, your CNS is constantly chatting back and forth with itself and your body to allow you to think, breathe, feel, see, and navigate the world – among many other things.
[The brain is shown exchanging messages with other organs in the body via a social media platform]
But what if your nerve cells stopped talking to each other in the usual way and the social network broke down in some spots?
Something similar happens in people with multiple sclerosis, or MS. MS is a disease of the central nervous system.
Usually diagnosed between 20 and 40 years of age, it’s a major cause of nontraumatic disability in young adults.
[A diverse range of people of different ages and ethnicities is shown, some with visible disabilities and others without]
To understand what MS does to the CNS and body, let’s take a closer look at how nerve cells work.
To send important messages, nerve cells communicate through electrical signals. Signals start at one end and travel down this long wire-like part, which is called an axon.
[The nerve cell has a main body with branches, and a long tail ending in branches. The tail is the axon]
Axons are coated with fatty layers of myelin, which is like the insulation around an actual electric wire. Myelin supports the nerve cell and helps the signal move efficiently to the end of the cell, where the message can be passed to other cells in the network.
[Signals move along the axon of one nerve cell then pass across a small gap between the cells to the main body of the next cell]
Nerve signals move incredibly quickly – from 10 to 100 metres per second.
It only takes about 1/50th of a second for a signal to reach your toe from your brain. That’s why you don’t notice any delay when your brain tells your toes to wiggle.
In people with MS, the myelin layers become damaged by being attacked by the immune system, leading to inflammation – changing the way signals move down the nerve and leading to a wide range of problems.
Areas of the CNS where myelin is lost become scarred when the body tries to fix the problem – like when a deep scrape leaves a scar on your skin.
Most people with MS experience relapses of symptoms followed by periods of time without symptoms.
[A graph on screen represents periods of sudden symptom worsening, then recovery. During the recovery periods, the symptoms do not recover to the same baseline level they were at before, so the symptoms gradually increase over time]
However, no one can predict what kind of symptoms they will have, when they will happen, or how long they will last.
What’s more, MS never stops and can damage your CNS even when you aren’t having symptoms.
[Alessio is sitting facing the camera and talking about her experience with MS. The video is 4:39 long]
Hello, I’m Alessio, I am 35 years old and I have been living with multiple sclerosis for two years.
But let’s go back to the beginning: 12 August 2018, the day my life changed forever. It was the night before I was due to set off on a motorcycle trip to the North Cape, which I’d dreamed of doing since I was a child.
But when I woke up the morning of the trip, I didn’t feel right. My body wasn’t responding. It was asleep. I had pins and needles from head to toe. I almost felt numb.
I went straight to A&E, which lead to a series of tests, checks and treatments.
I logged and analysed my symptoms for the following six months. I ended up on forums and websites run by associations dealing with patient support.
I actually ended up finding the most understandable information in groups, on various social networks. Talking to other people who are battling the same condition definitely helps. I also try to stay abreast of new research, treatments and trials that are being conducted.
Everything always leads me back to the same diagnosis: multiple sclerosis.
Despite my worries, those few months helped me to start digesting the potential diagnosis. It may not have been officially confirmed, but I braced myself for that sort of diagnosis, which I officially received in February.
I was so well informed about the condition by that point that the news didn't really shake me. Instead, it motivated me, at least I knew what was happening to me and I'd caught it in time, meaning I could treat it.
When the neurologist gave me my diagnosis, I was presented with potential treatments options.
After doing some research online and browsing various groups on social media, I got a more exhaustive idea of the treatment, and in the end, I chose the drug suggested by my neurologist, which I accompanied with a healthy, balanced lifestyle, which has been very important.
I also stopped eating junk food and started exercising again, mainly because the research I’d done always stressed how important it was.
Understanding my condition helped me manage it.
There were also so many things on my bucket list, and I realised it was time to pursue them.
The first thing I ticked off the list was a 100-day trip through sixteen different countries in Europe on my way up to the North Cape.
I realised I was just fine on my bike, and it was so relaxing I forgot I even had multiple sclerosis. Perhaps it couldn't keep up with me.
Multiple sclerosis is always lurking in the shadows, ready to present itself as fatigue, paraesthesia or lots of other symptoms that we're all too familiar with. So, I think it’s very important to listen to your body and react in time.
Research is making progress every day, and various treatments and technologies are being developed to help people with sclerosis to manage the condition day to day.
I’m hardly living in a dream world, but I have a lot of faith in research.
I have one small suggestion for people living with the condition: make every day count and above all, never give up. That’s definitely the right mindset to adopt in order to live life to the fullest and never give up.
Owning your MS
Watch Alessio’s story about how understanding MS has changed how he lives with MS
These articles will help you keep on top of your symptoms, so you can keep on top of your life.
Each article relates to a different test or method used to help diagnose MS. All explained as openly and clearly as possible.