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Multiple sclerosis

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system in which white matter in the brain and spinal column becomes inflamed and then scarred. The cause is unknown, but it is believed to involve interaction between genetic and environmental factors. It usually presents in the early adult years and is more common in women than in men. The disease runs a remitting and relapse course for a majority of people diagnosed but around 1 in 8 people diagnosed with MS are diagnosed with primary progressive MS (often abbreviated to PPMS) (MS Trust 2017). 

It is estimated that around 100,000 people are living with MS in the UK (MS Society 2018). Research has suggested that the prevalence rate in England and Wales is approximately between 100 and 140 per 100,000, with higher rates in Northern Ireland and Scotland (MS Trust 2018). 


MS is an unpredictable and variable long term condition that can affect each person very differently. Common symptoms include: 

  • visual disturbances
  • neuropathic pain
  • fatigue
  • spasms
  • depression
  • cognitive impairment. 

Studies have shown that up to 80 per cent of people working with MS experience symptoms that are severe enough to stop them working within 15 years of diagnosis (The Work Foundation, 2015).  Self-management of each individual’s MS is crucial to enable them to cope with a lifelong condition.

Further information

Page last updated - 27/06/2023