What is MS?

What is MS?

What is MS?

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, neurodegenerative condition that affects the Central Nervous System (CNS). The body’s own immune system appears to attack the protective sheath of fatty protein, called myelin, which surrounds the nerves in the brain, spinal cord and the optic nerve. An attack results in inflammation and development of one or more lesions, resulting in scarring or sclerotic plaques, forming on the nerves. These lesions interfere with the speed and efficiency of nerve messages sent back and forward through the brain, and spinal cord.

Every person diagnosed with MS will experience it slightly differently, depending on the location, size and number of lesions formed, and the type of MS. Fatigue is very common; for some, sensations are altered while others experience difficulty with muscle strength and movement. Lesions in the brain can affect a person’s capacity to process information, and may affect their emotions.

What causes MS?

It is not yet known what causes multiple sclerosis, or why it affects one person and not another. As a result, people with MS are often faced with uncertainty about the future. The MS Society of SA & NT (MSSANT) supports people living with MS by:

  • providing information, support and services for people with MS, and their families, to help them adjust to the diagnosis and to maintain their health.

We do know the condition is not contagious, and while MS is not directly inherited, genetics does play an important role in who gets the disease. Current research into understanding the cause of MS is focusing on the role of genetics, exposure to the Epstein Barr virus, several lifestyle factors and the role of vitamin D.

Diagnosing MS

There is no one test which says a person has MS. Unfortunately, at times the process can be difficult and time consuming, as each person’s case of MS is different, and can present with different and often vague symptoms.

The neurologist will fully assess a person’s medical history, perform a thorough neurological examination and detail their history and symptoms, before making a formal diagnosis.

In most cases, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan is performed on the brain and/or spinal cord. This type of scan shows pictures of the inflammation, and areas of scar tissue, in the Central nervous system (CNS). In some cases, Evoked Potentials - electrical nerve conduction studies (measuring nerve transmission speed) may be measured and/or a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) may be required.

Quick MS Facts

  • MS is the most common degenerative neurological condition diagnosed in young adults (people aged 20-40)
  • MS affects the Central Nervous System (brain, spinal cord and/or the optic nerves)
  • MS affects more women than men at a ratio of 3:1
  • MS is not contagious
  • Medications are available to reduce the frequency and severity of relapses in relapsing remitting MS
  • The majority of people diagnosed with MS do not become severely disabled
  • Smoking can both increase your risk of MS, and speed up the progression of the condition
  • The most common symptoms of MS are hidden (fatigue, depression, bladder disturbance, sensory, visual)
  • There is no cure for MS yet, but we’re working on it!
What is MS?