What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable inflammatory disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged; Each nerve fibre in the brain and spinal cord is surrounded by a layer of protein called myelin, which protects the nerve and helps electrical signals from the brain travel to the rest of the body. In MS, the myelin becomes damaged. This damage disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body, resulting in a wide range of signs and symptoms that vary widely, depending on the amount of damage and which nerves are affected.

Early MS symptoms include weakness, tingling, numbness, and blurred vision (usually only in one eye). Other signs are muscle stiffness, difficulties with balance and co-ordination (ataxia), cognitive impairments, and urinary problems. People with severe MS may lose the ability to walk independently or at all, while others experience long periods of remission during which symptoms may disappear completely; however, permanent neurological problems often occur, especially as the disease advances.

Multiple sclerosis is thought to be an autoimmune disease - one in which the body, through its immune system, launches a defensive attack against its own tissues. Most people experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 40. Today more than 2,500,000 people around the world have MS (70% are female).

There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis. Treatments attempt to improve function after an attack and prevent new attacks.

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