Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system). Sclerosis means scarring and the term ‘multiple sclerosis’ refers to multiple tiny scars which occur throughout the central nervous system and affect the body’s function in a variety of ways.
Damage to nerve fibres in MS interferes with the transmission of signals between the brain and the body, which causes a variety of symptoms.
Multiple sclerosis is the most common disease of the central nervous system amongst young adults.
- Roughly 1 in 1000 New Zealanders have MS
- Women are 3 times more likely to contract MS than men
- Symptoms most commonly appear in your 30s
Signs and Symptoms:
MS symptoms differ greatly from one person to the next, and largely depend on which area of the central nervous system is affected. Some symptoms may be temporary whereas others may last longer, and can include:
- Muscular spasms
- Problems with coordination and balance
- Weakness in the arms and legs
- Incontinence and constipation
- Sexual dysfunction
- Blurred vision or double vision
- Emotional and cognitive changes
Causes and Treatment:
The cause of MS is not yet known although it is believed to be a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. Interestingly, MS is more common in populations the further they live away from the equator. In New Zealand, this effect is marked even between the North and South Island with MS being almost twice as common in the South Island than the Upper North Island.
While there is no cure for MS, there are now medications to treat symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse and progression. For some people, symptoms are mild enough that medication is not needed.