Part of: Ill Health and Disability

Related to: NHS Health Checks, Medicines Management and Optimisation, [[Physical and Mobility Impairments]]

Key Facts:

  • Around 8 out of 10 people with MS will have the relapsing remitting type of MS
  • MS is three times as common in women than men, and more common in white people than black and Asian people
  • For more information about MS see NHS Choices

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease affecting nerves in the brain and spinal cord, causing problems with muscle movement, balance and vision. MS is known as an autoimmune condition. This is where something goes wrong with the immune system and it mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue – in this case, the myelin. 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 can cause multiple sections of the brain and spinal column to become damaged and hardened (sclerosis), which can disrupt the nerve signals passing through these areas.

This causes a wide range of potential symptoms, such as:

  • loss of vision – usually only in one eye
  • spasticity – muscle stiffness that can lead to uncontrolled muscle movements
  • ataxia – difficulties with balance and co-ordination
  • fatigue – feeling very tired during the day

Exactly what causes the immune system to act in this way is unclear, but most experts think a combination of genetic and environmental factors are involved.

Someone with relapsing remitting MS will have periods of time where symptoms are mild or disappear altogether. This is known as remission and can last for days, weeks or sometimes months. Remission will be followed by a sudden flare-up of symptoms, known as a relapse. Relapses can last from a few weeks to few months.

In secondary progressive MS, symptoms gradually worsen and there are fewer or no periods of remission. The least common form of MS is primary progressive MS. In this type, symptoms gradually get worse over time and there are no periods of remission.

Once diagnosed, MS stays with you for life, but treatments and specialists can help manage the symptoms. MS is not fatal, but some complications which can arise from more severe MS, such as pneumonia, can be. As a result, the average life expectancy for people with MS is around 10 years lower than the population at large. 1

What does the data say?

It is estimated that there are currently around 100,000 people with Multiple sclerosis in the United Kingdom. Symptoms usually first develop between the ages of 20 and 40, with the average age of diagnosis being about 30. 2

For reasons that are unclear, MS is three times as common in women than men, and more common in white people than black and Asian people. 3

Around 8 out of 10 people with MS will have the relapsing remitting type of MS. Usually after around 15 years, around half of people with relapsing remitting MS will go on to develop secondary progressive MS. 4  10–15% of those with MS have Primary progressive MS at onset. 5

What can we realistically change?

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)(2014) guidance