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Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of symptoms such as problems with muscle movement, balance and vision.

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 disrupts the transfer of these nerve signals, causing a range of potential symptoms, including:

• 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.

Types of multiple sclerosis

Around eight out of 10 people with MS are diagnosed with the relapsing remitting type of MS.

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

Usually after around 15 years, around half of people with relapsing remitting MS will go on to develop secondary progressive MS.

In secondary progressive MS, symptoms gradually worsen over time. Some people may still have relapses, but without full recovery from symptoms.

The least common form of MS is primary progressive MS where symptoms gradually get worse over time and there are no periods of remission.

Treatment

There is currently no cure for MS but there are a number of treatments that can help.

Relapsing remitting MS can be treated with disease-modifying drugs, which are designed to reduce the number of relapses someone has. They may also be able to slow the progression of MS, but they are not suitable for all people with MS.

Some of these drugs can also be used for treating secondary progressive MS, if someone is still experiencing relapses.

At the moment, there is no treatment that can slow the progress of primary progressive MS.

A wide range of treatments, including physiotherapy, can help relieve symptoms and make day-to-day living easier. Steroids can also be used to speed up recovery from relapses.

More about MS on NHS Choices

MS Society

MS Society Bristol offers crucial services for people affected by Multiple Sclerosis in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, including:

• benefit advice
• exercise classes
• financial assistance
• regular support groups
• social events
• telephone helpline

All of the services provided by the MS Society are available to anyone affected by MS, including MS patients, family members, carers, and health professionals as well as those awaiting a diagnosis.

For more information, visit the branch website, call the helpline on 07855 571592 or email bristol@mssociety.org.uk.

Bristol and South Gloucestershire branch