What is MS?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong condition of the central nervous system. The immune system mistakes the coating around nerve fibres (myelin) for foreign bodies and attacks them, rendering them damaged and not functioning properly.
Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, although it can affect those who are younger and older too. There are thought to be more than 100,000 sufferers in the UK, with up to 3 times as many women as men (affected by MS).
Symptoms of MS
Multiple Sclerosis can affect any part of the body, and symptoms can be unpredictable and occur at any time. These include:
- extreme tiredness
- numbness and tingling
- blurring of vision (in around a fifth of cases)
- balance and mobility problems
- muscle weakness and spasms
- depression and anxiety
What causes MS?
Although noone is certain of the cause, it is thought that both genetic and environmental factors can contribute to developing MS. Some studies have found links between low vitamin D levels and occurrences of MS; people living in countries with less sunlight are more likely to develop the condition.
Smoking is also thought to increase a person’s risk of developing MS, possibly because of the effect of the chemicals in the smoke on the nervous system.
How is it diagnosed?
There are three ways in which a person can be diagnosed with MS. A neurologist may look for changes in eye movements, limb co-ordination, balance, speech and reflexes if you feel that you are experiencing any symptoms. The patient may have an MRI scan, which typically takes between 10-30 minutes and is painless. If MS cannot be detected, the patient may have to undergo a Lumbar puncture (otherwise known as a spinal tap), where fluid is extracted from the spine via needle and tested – this procedure is done under local anaesthetic.