What is multiple sclerosis, or MS?

Last updated


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that affects the central nervous system.

Key points 

  • Over 23,000 people in Australia live with multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • There are three stages of MS which range from mild and moderate to severe
  • There is no cure for MS, however treatments are available to help with symptoms

What is MS?

MS interferes with nerve impulses within the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.

Over 23,000 people in Australia live with MS and worldwide more than 2.8 million have been diagnosed with the condition.

MS is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, with three times as many women diagnosed as men.

Sclerosis is the Greek word for ‘scars’, which refers to the scars that develop within the central nervous system before symptoms present themselves.

Symptoms of MS

Symptoms of MS include:

  • Impacted motor control – muscular spasms and problems with weakness, coordination, balance and functioning of the arms and legs
  • Fatigue – including heat sensitivity
  • Other neurological symptoms – including vertigo, pins and needles, neuralgia and visual disturbances
  • Neuropsychological symptoms – including memory loss, depression and cognitive difficulties
  • Continence problems – including bladder incontinence and constipation

Stages of MS

There are three stages of MS which range from mild to moderate and severe.

Relapsing-remitting (RRMS) is the most common form of MS. This stage involves partial or total recovery after attacks. Between 70 and 75 percent of people with MS begin with relapsing-remitting MS.

Secondary progressive (SPMS) is where attacks and partial recoveries may continue. Of the 70-75 percent who start with RRMS, more than half will develop SPMS within a decade, with 90 percent living with SPMS within 25 years.

Primary progressive (PPMS) is a stage where symptoms generally do not disappear. Roughly 15 percent of people living with MS are diagnosed with PPMS.

Most people with MS can expect to live 95 percent of the normal life expectancy.

Treatment of MS

There is currently no known cure for MS, however, a number of treatment options are available to help manage symptoms and slow progression of the disease.

Some medications to control MS symptoms include:

  • Disease modifying therapies, also called immunotherapies. These work by modifying the activity of the immune system to slow the frequency and severity of attacks to the central nervous system. These medications are most often prescribed for people with RRMS
  • Steroid medication (such as methylprednisolone) is often used to control the severity of an MS attack by easing inflammation at the affected site
  • Immunosuppressants, such as methotrexate or mitoxantrone are sometimes used, especially for people with PPMS

For someone living with MS, the key things to remember are to stay as active as possible, maintain a healthy body weight, keep your mind active, avoid smoking, limit alcohol consumption and take any prescribed medications.

What more do you want to know about multiple sclerosis? Tell us in the comment section below.

Related content
Physical disabilities
What is the NDIS?
What support can I get?