Around each nerve fibre - the pathways along which messages and instructions are passed between different parts of the brain and the rest of the body - is an insulating wrapping of fatty membrane called myelin. In multiple sclerosis (MS) the myelin is broken down in patches throughout the central nervous system and the damaged patches become scarred (this is where the name comes from - sclerosis meaning scars and multiple obviously means many). Without the myelin coating, nerve messages cannot travel normally and they can become garbled or lost so that the instructions sent by the nervous system to different parts of the body are disrupted.
Who has it?
It is thought that between 85 and 100 thousand people in the UK - about 1 in 600 - have been diagnosed. MS affects more women than men (by a ratio of 3:2) with symptoms usually becoming apparent in young adults (between the ages of 20 and 40) even though a firm diagnosis might not be made for many years.
What causes it?
No one knows - despite vast amounts of research which is still going on. Various factors may trigger an inborn susceptibility to MS. Such factors may cause inappropriate activity of the immune system - the body's defence mechanism - causing the destruction of myelin. MS is not contagious - you cannot catch it from someone.
What problems does it cause?
As with most chronic illnesses, the problems are both physical and emotional. The severity and incidence of symptoms vary enormously from person to person and even from hour to hour some of the more common symptoms being:-
Stockton MS Group is an independent charity registered no. 1032397