People living with multiple sclerosis (MS) are being invited to share their inspirational stories this month, in an effort to raise awareness.
National charity MS-UK runs an awareness week each year, in an effort to help people understand the long-term condition and educate others about the symptoms.
Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s campaign and the signs and symptoms to look out for.
When is MS Awareness Week 2021?
MS Awareness Week will run from 19 to 25 April, with this year’s theme centred around inspirational real-life stories.
MS-UK is inviting people with the condition to share their stories across various platforms to celebrate their achievements, and help people understand that life does not have to stop because of an MS diagnosis.
Stories can include anything from achieving a life goal, overcoming a lockdown challenge with success, or sharing tops on managing symptoms that could be beneficial to others.
While MS is a long-term condition, the charity hopes to raise awareness that people can still go on to achieve incredible things and these successes, no matter how small, should be celebrated.
What is MS?
MS is an autoimmune condition that can affect the brain or the spinal cord of the nervous system, which may cause a wide range of symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movements, and balance.
In MS, the immune system attacks the layer that surrounds and protects the nerves called the myelin sheath, causing damage and scarring. This means that messages travelling along the nerves become slowed or disrupted.
What causes the immune system to act in this way is still unclear, but most experts believe it is related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
MS is a lifelong condition that can cause serious disability, but for some it can be mild and in many cases, it is possible for symptoms to be treated.
However, average life expectancy is slightly reduced for people with MS.
The condition is most commonly diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s, although it can develop at any age, and is around two to three times more common in women than men.
What are the types of MS?
More than eight in 10 people with MS are diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS, meaning they will have episodes of new or worsening symptoms, known as relapses.
These typically worsen over a few days, last for days to weeks to months, then slowly improve over a similar time period. Relapses often occur without warning, but are sometimes associated with a period of illness or stress.
The symptoms of a relapse may disappear altogether, with or without treatment, although some symptoms often persist, with repeated attacks happening over several years.
After many years (usually decades), many, but not all, people with relapsing remitting MS go on to develop secondary progressive MS. In this type, symptoms gradually worsen over time without obvious attacks.
Around half of people with relapsing remitting MS will develop secondary progressive MS within 15 to 20 years, and the risk of this happening increases the longer you have the condition.
Just over one in 10 people have primary progressive MS. In these cases, symptoms gradually worsen and accumulate over several years, and there are no periods of remission, although people often have periods where their condition appears to stabilise.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of MS often vary from person to person and can affect any part of the body.
Depending on the type of MS you have, symptoms may come and go in phases, or become gradually worse over time.
The most common symptoms include:
- difficulty walking
- vision problems, such as blurred vision
- problems controlling the bladder
- numbness or tingling in different parts of the body
- muscle stiffness and spasms
- problems with balance and coordination
- problems with thinking, learning and planning
Can it be treated?
There is currently no cure for MS, but there are a number of treatments to help control the condition.
These can include:
- treating relapses with short courses of steroid medicine to speed up recovery
- specific treatments for individual MS symptoms
- treatment to reduce the number of relapses using medicines called disease-modifying therapies
Disease-modifying therapies may also help to slow or reduce the overall worsening of disability in people with relapsing remitting MS and secondary progressive MS.
Sadly there is currently no treatment that can slow the progress of primary progressive MS, or secondary progressive MS in the absence of relapses.
How to share your story
If you have an inspirational story you would like to share about MS for the awareness week, you can do so online via MS-UK.