What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease. This is a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakes its own healthy tissues as foreign and attacks them. Many autoimmune conditions cause inflammation that can affect many parts of the body. In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers nerve fibres and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves.
The presentation of MS can be different person to person. There are three main types of MS which are the most common, relapsing remitting MS, secondary progressive MS, and primary progressive MS. Even within these three classifications people’s experiences can be different. There are also rarer forms of MS which are difficult to diagnose but can be managed in similar ways.
Relapsing Remitting MS
This type of multiple sclerosis means the sufferer will experience times where symptoms flare up aggressively, known as relapse, an attack, or exacerbation. This will be followed by periods of recovery, known as remission.
Every relapse is different and is very hard to predict when it may occur and how long it will last. Relapses can last anywhere from 24hrs to several months. Sometimes the relapse will be mild, and other times is more severe. Symptoms usually improve and may go away as the body is able to adapt and heal itself. On average people with relapsing remitting MS will have one or two attacks a year, the level of disability will remain mostly stable between relapses.
Secondary Progressive MS
Many MS patients are initially diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS, however overtime their MS changes. They begin to have fewer relapses but their disability increases. This follows an initial (primary) relapsing phase, this is known as secondary progressive MS. Some people get diagnosed with secondary progressive MS as the initial relapsing remitting phase went undiagnosed.
People’s experience of secondary progressive MS can vary, some people’s increase in disability increases gradually, for others it happens more quickly. Some people may be given a different diagnosis to begin with; this will later be changed to MS once the pattern of symptoms became clearer or diagnostic tests were able to detect damage due to the MS.
Primary Progressive MS
This type of MS accounts for around 10-15% of MS cases. In this type of MS disability increases from the onset and rarely relapses. The rate at which disability progresses varies from person to person, there may be times of improvement and types when symptoms stay the same. Living with progressive primary MS can be very uncertain due to the nature of the condition. Symptoms can fluctuate over time so it can be hard to predict how the person may be on a particular day.