Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition which affects the brain and spinal cord. It is most commonly diagnosed in young people between the ages of 20-30, at the prime of their lives when many are wanting to establish careers & families.
In a person with MS the immune system thinks that the myelin nerve coverings are foreign bodies and destroys them. Myelin is the fatty substance which covers and protects our nerves and is essential to ensure messages from the brain travel efficiently to control movement and thoughts. As the condition progresses in a person with MS, the nerve coverings are left with holes which slows down signals from the brain and can eventually stop them getting through altogether causing physical disability and memory problems.
In the early stages of the disease symptoms can be invisible but they are still seriously disabling. They include visual disturbances, dizziness & balance problems, bladder problems, anxiety, depression, nerve pain, joint weakness, brain fog, cognitive decline and fatigue.
The invisibility of symptoms in the very young is a real challenge. Symptoms make it very difficult to keep up with peers but as they cannot be seen they are poorly understood by others and frequently leave a person with MS feeling very isolated. Memory problems and depression are common problems in people with MS, with around 50% developing a serious clinical depression.
There are around 6,000 newly diagnosed cases each year, with a total of around 130,000 people in the UK. In recent years it is becoming increasingly common for MS to be diagnosed in childhood, before the age of 16.
MS is a condition which can, if left untreated, deteriorate over time. There is currently no cure but there are treatments available (DMT’s – Disease Modifying Therapies) which slow progression. The sooner MS is treated, the better the long term prognosis.