Nicola Hyslop.jpgMS Awareness Week runs until April 25. This year the campaigns are – Me, MySelf and I and #Letstalk.

MS services have been hit hard over the last 12 months, and this year for Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week national and local services are focusing on getting Multiple Sclerosis services back on track. Highlighting the people 'behind the statistics' and their stories, as well as encouraging people to talk about their personal experiences of living with MS.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that affects your brain and spinal cord. In MS, the coating that protects your nerves (myelin) is damaged. This can cause a range of symptoms such as blurred vision as well as problems with how we move, think and feel.  Once diagnosed, MS stays with you for life, but treatments and specialists can help you to manage the condition and its symptoms. More than 130,000 people in the UK have MS. In the UK people are most likely to find out they have MS in their30s, 40s and 50s. But the first signs of MS often start years earlier. Many people notice their first symptoms years before they get their diagnosis.

Facts about MS

  • MS affects almost three times as many women as men.
  • MS is more common in countries further North of South of the equator
  • MS is not contagious or infectious, so you can’t catch it like a cold.
  • Everyone’s MS is different, no two people with have the same symptoms even if they are closely related.
  • 130 people are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis every week in the UK. That's one person every two hours.

An MS diagnosis can be devastating, for both people with MS and their loved ones.

You may feel lost, lonely and uncertain of the future. But you don't have to deal with it alone.

Types of MS

Not everyone's MS is the same. You might have a diagnosis of relapsing remitting MS, secondary progressive MS or primary progressive MS, but everyone has a different experience.  Although MS can be divided into three main types, it's not an exact science so sometimes there's some doubt, especially to begin with.

The most widely held theory is that MS is an autoimmune disease - where the immune system, which should only target invading germs, turns on the body's own tissues. In the case of multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks myelin, the fatty protein that covers the nerves in the central nervous system. It is thought that, in people who have an underlying genetic tendency, MS is triggered by other risk factors, such as a viral infection, smoking, or a lack of vitamin D.

Some of the most common first symptoms are: 

There are other symptoms of MS but these are less commonly experienced early in the course of the condition. All of these early symptoms can also be symptoms of other medical conditions. If you are worried that you have symptoms of MS, it is important to consult a health professional so that you can get the correct diagnosis. There is no definitive test for MS and diagnosis will involve considering the various symptoms and ruling out other explanations. This process can take some time.

In Cumbria

The MS Service in Cumbria is led by a Consultant Neurologist who is supported by three Specialist Nurses and two Infusion nurses in the North of the County, and two Specialist Nurses in the South supporting just over 1,000 patients at present.  They work closely with patients to manage treatments, relapses, symptoms, and coordinate and facilitate independence as well as offering support and understanding for both patients and their loved ones.

The MS Trust works nationally for everyone affected by MS, from the moment of diagnosis and throughout their journey, making sure a life with MS isn't a life defined by MS.

The MS Society work locally supporting people living with MS, researchers, fundraisers, campaigners and volunteers.  They facilitate support groups and activities in your local area.

Both charities are an invaluable source of information and support to both health professionals and people living with the condition.

Multiple sclerosis is a complex condition which is often misunderstood. By raising awareness of MS, and our work supporting people living with the condition, we can help ensure everyone with MS gets the support and information they need.

By Nicola Hyslop, Advanced MS NurseChampion at NCIC and the MS Team