What your friends and family should know

  • MS affects everyone differently. No two cases are the same.
  • It can attack any part of the central nervous system, including the brain, the spinal cord and the optic nerves.
  • It damages the nerves and the insulating sheath of myelin that surrounds them, forming scars or lesions.
  • This myelin damage interrupts the flow of communication signals between the brain and other parts of the body.
  • Symptoms come and go, and depend to a large extent on where the damage is located.
  • Disability generally accumulates with time, but it’s impossible to predict what the outcome will be for anyone.
  • The exact cause of the illness is still unknown. There is no single test to diagnosis it. And there is no cure.
  • Not everyone with MS winds up in a wheelchair. About 70 percent remain ambulatory, though some will need a cane or walker.
  • Mobility impairments are not the only consequences. MS causes a wide range of symptoms – many of which can’t be seen.
  • The most common hidden effect is fatigue – a chronic lassitude more severe and persistent than normal tiredness.
  • 45-65% of people with MS will experience cognitive problems, affecting memory, concentration and information processing.
  • These cognitive impairments – and fatigue – are the main factors leading to their premature departure from the workforce.
  • People with MS are more prone to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.
  • Bowel and bladder problems, and sexual difficulties, are an issue for many.
  • And pain is a very common – and often excruciating – feature of the illness.
  • All of these invisible symptoms can be experienced early in MS – even by the newly diagnosed and minimally impaired.
  • And conversely, people with significant physical disabilities can have few – if any – problems with cognition, depression or fatigue.
  • There is little or no relationship between the presence of these symptoms and the degree of disability or duration of disease.