What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis is a long term disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves.

The nerve fibres of the CNS are surrounded and protected by a fatty tissue called myelin, which helps nerve fibres conduct electrical impulses around the body. 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.

In MS, myelin is lost in multiple areas, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis, which is where the disease gets its name. These damaged areas are also known as plaques or lesions. Sometimes the nerve fibre itself is damaged or broken. This damage to myelin and/or the nerve fibres produces the various symptoms of MS.

Recent evidence suggests that some people may have a genetic predisposition to develop MS, but whether they develop the disease is dependent on them being exposed to a certain trigger, e.g. physical/mental stress or injury. Symptoms vary depending on which part of the CNS is affected.

It is estimated that at least 100,000 people in the UK have MS, but this may underestimate the extent of the disease. It normally manifests itself in people between the ages of 20-40, although with modem technology, MRI scanners, it is now possible to detect MS at a much earlier age.

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