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About MS

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.

The disease affects more than 2.8 million people around the world, and is caused by damage to myelin – the protective layer of nerve fibres that allow nerves to transmit impulses to and from the brain – in a process called demyelination.

In the areas where myelin is lost, hardened scars appear in various areas of the brain and spinal cord. The name of the resulting condition – multiple sclerosis – literally means ‘many scars’.

MS can appear at any time and affects patients in different ways, and symptoms can include numbness, tingling, mood changes, memory problems, pain, fatigue, blindness and/or paralysis. These effects may be temporary or long lasting, and no two patients’ experiences are the same.

To learn more about MS, watch our informative video with Dr Ahmed Shatila.

2.8 million

people around the world are affected by Multiple Sclerosis.


What Causes MS

A fatty substance called myelin protects the nerve fibres in the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord). Myelin has been likened to the insulation surrounding an electrical wire, with the substance helping messages travel quickly and smoothly between the brain and nerves in the rest of the body.

In people with MS, the immune system, which normally helps to fight off infections, mistakes myelin for a foreign body and attacks it. This results in a loss or decrease in the communications signals in the central nervous system, leading to a range of symptoms including paralysis, fatigue, tingling, pain, mood swings, and numbness.

Currently, researchers do not know what triggers this attack response to myelin by the body’s immune system, but in a bid to identify the causes, ongoing research focuses on a range of age, gender, genetic, environmental, immunological, and infectious factors.


Who Develops MS

While researchers believe multiple sclerosis is not contagious or directly inherited, epidemiologists have recently noted that all people with MS have contracted Epstein-Barr Virus (EPV) at some point in their lives and the latest medical research into treatment is being centered around this discovery.

Though Epstein-Barr Virus is a common link, other factors in the distribution of MS around the world have been identified that may eventually help determine what causes the disease. These include gender, genetics, age, geography, and ethnic background.

Ethnic Background

While the risk of developing MS is higher for people with family members affected by MS, it is not thought to be hereditary, and there is a two per cent chance that a child born to a parent with MS will develop the condition.

Genetic research has also shown a link to MS via certain genes that control specific components of the immune system. Increased knowledge of any potential genetic triggers will improve understanding of the condition, and any associated treatment and prevention programmes.


Types of MS

There are four general Multiple Sclerosis types (or phenotypes) including clinically isolated syndrome, relapsing remitting, secondary progressive, and primary progressive.

There are also suggested modifiers that can be applied (that work across a timeframe), such as “activity” and “progression”, with the latest guidance suggesting the terms “worsening” or “progression” to describe the disease. It is uncertain how a patient’s disease will progress.

Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS)
Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS)
Secondary Progressive MS
Primary Progressive MS
Next chapter

Diagnosing MS

Diagnosing MS