What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

It is thought there are over 130,000 people in the UK with MS. Every week 130 people are diagnosed with the condition which means that around one in every 500 people has MS in Britain.

Who gets MS?

MS is between 2 and 3 times more common in women. Symptoms usually start sometime between the ages of 20 and 40 and the chances of developing the condition get higher the further away you live from the equator. It is more common for example in Scotland than it is in southern England.

What causes MS?

It is thought that a number of factors may affect your risk of developing MS. There is no one specific gene that has been identified and linked to MS but we do know that having a first degree relative with MS (parent, child or sibling) does very slightly increase your risk of MS. Scientists also think that exposure to a viral infection such as the Epstein Barr virus (the virus which causes glandular fever) could trigger MS in susceptible individuals. Smoking and low levels of vitamin D may also play a role.

What are the symptoms of MS?

About one in four people will notice problems with vision at the onset, but any part of the nervous system can be affected. Symptoms can include

  • Numbness or pins and needles
  • Poor co-ordination
  • Muscle spasms
  • Burning pains
  • Fatigue
  • Electric shock like symptoms in the arms when putting the chin on the chest
  • Urinary symptoms
  • Depression

How is MS diagnosed?

When MS develops, the protective sheath around the nerves is broken down and this can appear as characteristic changes on an MRI scan, so if your specialist suspects MS, you will almost certainly have an MRI scan. There are also some specialised eye tests called visually evoked potentials and you may also have a lumbar puncture looking for changes in the proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid.

What is the outlook if diagnosed with MS?

MS is a hugely variable disease so it is impossible to predict how any individual will respond. 90% or people have what we call “relapsing-remitting MS”, which is where symptoms develop and may persist for days or several weeks before subsiding which is called a remission. The fewer the relapses and the better the recovery between attacks, the better the outlook. This phase may last for many years, but around three quarters of people with relapsing-remitting disease will eventually go on to develop secondary progressive disease, which sadly means permanent nerve damage.

10% of MS sufferers will have a more aggressive disease called primary progressive MS and these patients develop slowly progressive symptoms from the onset.

How is MS treated?

Sadly, we don’t, as yet, have a cure for MS, but depending on the symptoms, MS patients may be offered help from physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, speech therapists, social services, pain specialists, neurologists (nerve specialists) and urologists (bladder specialists). We also have specialist medicines that can be given to reduce the symptoms of an attack.

For more help and advice on MS visit the MS Society- www.mssociety.org.uk

Can I get cannabis on prescription for MS?

Medicinal cannabis can only be started on prescription by a specialist and is currently only used when other treatments have not worked in the treatment of muscle stiffness and spasms associated with MS.


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