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Understanding Multiple Sclerosis

By Cathy Millwood, Chairman and Membership Secretary, MS Society, Stratford-upon-Avon and District Branch

Multiple Sclerosis, which literally means “many scars”, can be a life-changing condition and affects around 100,000 people in the UK.

MS affects the central nervous system (brain and spine) which controls the body’s actions and activities such as balance and movement. The immune system mistakes the myelin, which protects the nerve fibres in the central nervous system, for a foreign body and attacks it, leaving scars and lesions. The brain’s function is disrupted and it fails to send messages to different parts of the body.

These physiological affects obviously impact upon people with the condition’s quality of life: a professional footballer was unable to continue to play; a butcher had a sudden numbness in his hand and dropped his meat cleaver onto his foot; an electrician found that he could only see in shades of grey so could not recognise the colour of the wiring; an opera singer could not control her diaphragm and hence could not sing; a dance teacher could no longer stand unaided; and a chef could not cope with the heat in the kitchen. Even if one’s work is not affected, imagine a mother in her thirties with three children who could not pick up her youngest baby and then found she could hardly stand.

Physical symptoms of MS might commonly include difficulty swallowing, problems with vision and balance, dizziness, fatigue, stiffness and spasms plus bladder and bowel problems. MS can affect memory and thinking, and also have an impact on emotions. Like all MS symptoms these things can happen in varying degrees, or not at all.

Almost twice as many women have MS than men. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20-40, but it can affect younger and older people too. Once diagnosed, MS stays with you for life, but treatments and specialists can help you to manage the symptoms.
The early signs and symptoms are different for everyone hence it is hard to pinpoint exactly when MS begins and it’s not easy to diagnose.

If you are concerned about MS or would like to find out more about the condition, you can contact the MS Society on 020 8438 0700 or visit

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