MS is a chronic disease where the body’s own immune system causes damage to the nerves in your brain and spinal cord, also known as the central nervous system or CNS.
This may cause a range of symptoms affecting your sight, movement, balance and other bodily functions.
Unfortunately, no one understands exactly what causes MS. It’s clear there is no single cause – studies show a combination of genes, environmental and lifestyle factors may contribute to its development.
Not everyone with MS will experience the same symptoms. MS symptoms can be unpredictable and diverse – depending on which part of your central nervous system is affected.
If you experience any new or worsening symptoms, please speak to your GP who will be able to help you. Check out our discussion guide which goes through symptoms and quality of life factors and can help make sure you ask the right questions for you.
MS can be tricky to diagnose as symptoms can vary widely between individuals. There is currently no single test available to diagnose MS.
MS is typically diagnosed by observing symptoms over a period of time, combined with the results of medical tests. That’s why there is often a delay between the first appearance of symptoms and a confirmed diagnosis. GPs or optometrists (if initial symptoms affect vision) may suspect MS, but unfortunately they cannot make a diagnosis – neurologists who specialise in MS are best trained to confirm a diagnosis and prescribe a treatment plan.
Some common medical tests that can help diagnose MS
Scan of the brain
and spinal cord
To collect fluid from around
the spine for analysis
To examine your
senses and function
A definitive diagnosis of MS can only be made after at least two separate ‘attacks’ and / or identification of lesions in the brain and spinal cord that indicate previous attacks, and when all other causes have been ruled out.
An attack can also be called a relapse, which is usually defined as a new symptom or worsening of an existing symptom that lasts for more than 24 hours. A lesion is any damage in the central nervous system caused by MS.
Coming to terms with a diagnosis of MS may take some time, and it’s common to feel shocked, sad or angry. Don’t be afraid to share your concerns with people who can help, such as your neurologist, a counsellor, an MS nurse or other people who have MS from your local MS Organisation. Remember there are treatments that aim to help manage symptoms, reduce relapses and slow the development of disability.
MS can vary considerably from person to person and the
condition may progress or regress unpredictably. Some
people have only mild symptoms, while others have regular
attacks that cause progressive worsening.