What is MS?
Once diagnosed, MS stays with you for life, but treatments and specialists can help you to manage the condition and its symptoms.
More than 130,000 people in the UK have MS. In the UK people are most likely to find out they have MS in their thirties, forties and fifties. But the first signs of MS often start years earlier. Many people notice their first symptoms years before they get their diagnosis.
MS affects almost three times as many women as men. Read the latest statistics on MS in the UK.
What happens in MS?
To understand what happens in MS, it's useful to understand how the central nervous system works.
A substance called myelin protects the nerve fibres in the central nervous system, which helps messages travel quickly and smoothly between the brain and the rest of the body.
In MS, your immune system, which normally helps to fight off infections, mistakes myelin for a foreign body and attacks it. This damages the myelin and strips it off the nerve fibres, either slightly or completely, leaving scars known as lesions or plaques.
This damage disrupts messages travelling along nerve fibres – they can slow down, become distorted, or not get through at all.
As well as losing the myelin, there can sometimes be damage to the actual nerve fibres too. It's this nerve damage that causes the increase in disability that can occur over time.
What causes MS symptoms?
The central nervous system links everything your body does, so MS can cause many different types of symptoms. You might have problems with your vision, balance, walking or emotions.
The specific symptoms that appear depend on which part of your central nervous system has been affected, and the job of the damaged nerve. That's why MS is different for everyone.
Download more information
What is MS (booklet)
PDF, 7.8 MB
Find support near you
We can't meet face-to-face right now. But there's still lots of ways to connect with people near you who understand what life's like with MS.
The next research breakthrough is in reach
Your donation will help stop MS.
£30could process one blood sample, giving researchers crucial information about genes and the immune system.
£50could pay for an hour on a microscope, so scientists can study cells and tissue in greater detail and improve their understanding of the biology of MS.
£100could pay for half an hour of MRI use, so researchers can monitor the success of clinical trials and understand MS in more detail.
Every penny you give really does take us a step closer to stopping MS. Your donation will make a difference.
£10a month could pay for lab equipment like microscope slides to study the building blocks of MS
£20a month could pay for lab equipment like petri dishes to grow bacteria important for studying genetics
£30a month could process a blood sample to help us understand what causes MS, so we can stop it in its tracks
Your regular donation means we can keep funding world class MS research with confidence. Together we will stop MS.
We’re the MS Society – a community of people living with MS, scientists, campaigners, volunteers and fundraisers.
We understand what life’s like with MS, and we support each other through the highs, lows and everything in between.
And we’re driving research into more – and better – treatments. For everyone.
Together, we are strong enough to stop MS.