Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an auto-immune disease
that gets progressively worse over time, attacking the myelin – the protective layer that covers your nerves. This process is called demyelination. Demyelination causes inflammation and scarring (sclerosis) on your nerves, which stops them from properly transporting the brain’s signals around the body. This nerve damage can happen anywhere in the body, which is why MS looks and feels different for each individual.
There are different types of MS:
- Relapsing-remitting MS — symptoms appear and worsen over a short period before getting better or going away (remitting), and then returning (relapsing). Over time, the relapses can get longer, or worse — see secondary progressive MS. Relapsing-remitting MS is the most common type.
- Primary progressive MS — symptoms gradually get worse, without any periods of remission.
- Secondary-progressive MS — diagnosed when relapsing-remitting gets worse over time. There may be periods of remission, but symptoms do not completely go away. For some people this can happen in months, for others it takes decades.
MS is chronic (ongoing), and has a big impact on a person’s life and health, but it is not terminal (deadly). MS is common, with more than 25,000 people in Australia living with the disease.
Though the cause of MS is unknown, there are some risk factors. You are more likely to develop MS if you are a woman, have close family members with MS, have had previous infections similar to the virus, glandular fever (Epstein-Barr virus), smoke, or live further away from the equator.