What is MS?
As a local group we look to raise awareness of MS to the larger community and have attending many local events providing information to the larger community . This page explains a little bit about the condition and we hope it may accurate information to those newly diagnosed and their friends and family
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a neurological condition. That means it affects your nerves. The specialist doctors who look after people with MS are called neurologists.
You can’t catch MS from someone. You get it when your immune system isn’t working properly. Your immune system normally protects you by fighting off infections. In MS it attacks your nerves by mistake.
These nerves control lots of different parts of your body and how they work. That’s why, if you have MS, you can get its symptoms in many parts of your body and it can affect lots of things your body does. This is why everyone’s MS is different.
What's happening in MS?
Your brain and spinal cord make up your central nervous system.
Your spinal cord connects nearly all parts of your body to your brain. Messages go between your brain and spinal cord, travelling along the nerves. These signals control how parts of your body move or work and let you feel things like pain, touch and so on.
Your immune system protects you from infections. It does this by attacking and killing viruses and bacteria that get into your body. But in MS your immune system attacks nerves in your brain and spinal cord by mistake. This damages the covering around your nerves.
This covering is made of a fatty coating called myelin. This protects each nerve from harm and helps messages
travel along it. When myelin becomes damaged, messages find it harder to get through – or can’t get through at all. That’s when symptoms of MS begin. Eventually so much damage takes place that it can’t be repaired and the nerve dies.
Think of this being like an electric cable. The wire inside it is like your nerve. Electricity travels down the wire so the machine at the other end will work. This is like when your brain sends a signal down
your nerve to tell a part of your body what to do.
A cable has a plastic covering around the wire to protect it from damage. If the cable’s covering gets broken it can mean electricity won’t get through like it should and the machine won’t work properly. Myelin protects your nerves in the same way.
Why do some people get MS ?
In the UK around 1 in 500 of us has MS. That’s over 130,000 people. Each week over 100 people are told they have it. Nearly three times as many women have MS than men. Its not known why yet. In the UK people are most likely to find out they have MS in their thirties, forties and fifties. But the first signs of MS often start years earlier. It’s rare that children get MS.
Nobody knows for sure why MS happens to some people. What we know is growing all the time. Slowly we’re putting together more pieces of the puzzle.
Certain things seem to play a part in triggering MS. It’s probably not
just one thing but a combination of:
MS damages nerves in different parts of your brain and spinal cord. Where
this damage is will affect which part of your body gets symptoms.
Symptoms can be unpredictable. They can change from day to day, even hour to hour. They could last days, weeks or months. Depending on the type of MS, these symptoms could stay, ease off or go away completely.
Some people find getting hot, tired or stressed, or exerting themselves can make symptoms worse or trigger a relapse (a
flare up of your MS symptoms). Everyone has their own symptoms and they won’t be the same as other people’s. And how MS develops over time is unique to each person.
No-one is likely to get all the symptoms of MS. But here are the more common ones.
‘Fatigue’. This feeling of being exhausted isn’t like normal tiredness. It can make doing things (even thinking) very hard or impossible
Strange feelings. You may get numbness or tingling in your arms, legs, hands or feet
Eye problems. Your sight might become blurred or you may see double. For a while you might not see through one or both eyes
Feeling dizzy and having problems with your balance
Problems with talking or swallowing
Muscle stiffness and spasms (sudden movements you can’t control)
Your bladder or bowels not working properly
Shaking in your arms or legs (called ‘tremor’)
Forgetting things and difficulties with your thinking
Emotional issues. Feeling depressed or crying a lot can be a normal reaction to being told you have MS but it can also be one way MS affects your brain
How is MS diagnosed?
Diagnosing MS isn’t easy. Symptoms can be confused with more common problems. Doctors must rule these out first before they look for signs of MS. It can take a long time from when you first notice something’s wrong to when you’re officially told you have MS.
There’s no simple test, like a blood test, for MS. Only a neurologist can diagnose it, not your GP.
If your GP thinks MS could be causing your symptoms they’ll send you to a neurologist for tests.
SEEING THE NEUROLOGIST
When you see a neurologist it can take a few tests and several months before you have a final diagnosis. This can be a frustrating time.
Four types of tests are used to diagnose MS:
a neurological examination
‘evoked potentials’ tests
a lumbar puncture
WHAT ARE THE TESTS LOOKING FOR ?
A neurologist looks for signs of how much damage has happened to your central nervous system. They need to know that damage happened at different times and in at least two different parts of your brain or spinal cord. In most cases MRI scans are used to help show this.
A neurologist will ask about your ‘history’, meaning your health problems and symptoms, now and in the past. A physical examination will check your movements, reflexes and senses, such as your eyesight. Even if a
neurologist suspects MS other tests are needed to be sure.
MRI (MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING)
A machine called an MRI scanner takes pictures of your brain or spinal cord. You lie on a bed that slides into the scanner where you stay for a few minutes to up to an hour.
Using strong magnetic fields and radio waves it builds up a picture of the inside of your brain or spinal cord. On the scan an MS specialist can see any inflammation and damage MS has caused. These areas of damage are called lesions or plaques. Having a scan is painless but can be a bit noisy and feel a little claustrophobic.
MRI scans are the most accurate way of diagnosing MS. Over 90% of people have their MS confirmed this this way.
During a lumbar puncture (or ‘spinal tap’) a needle is put into your lower back, into the space around your spinal cord. A little bit of fluid is taken out and checked for signs that your immune system has been active in your brain and spinal cord (which doesn’t happen if you don’t have MS). These signs, which can include ‘antibodies’, show that you’re very likely to have MS.
You’re given something to numb where the needle goes in. It can still be uncomfortable and might give you a headache. Now we have MRI scans, lumbar punctures aren’t used so often.
EVOKED POTENTIALS TEST
This test measures how fast messages travel between your brain and your eyes, ears and skin. If MS has damaged the myelin around your nerves in these parts of your body your reactions will be slower.
To measure your eyes, you’re shown patterns on a screen. Electrodes measure how your brain reacts to what you see. To test your hearing you’ll listen to clicks through headphones. In another test you’re given tiny shocks on your skin (it feelslike ‘pins and needles’), and the reactions of your muscles are measured.