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Multiple sclerosis - Fact Sheet

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Types of brain disorders

Multiple sclerosis - Fact Sheet

An estimated 23,000 Australians live with multiple sclerosis (MS)

The term 'sclerosis' is a Greek word meaning 'hardened tissue or scars'. These scars form as a result of cells in the body's own immune system entering the central nervous system and causing inflammation to the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.

Recurring episodes of MS can cause many scars to appear in the central nervous system as inflammation created by the body's immune system cells breakdown myelin, the insulating material that covers the nerve fibres. This can result in impairment of motor, sensory and cognitive functions to a greater or lesser extent.

'Multiple' describes other aspects of what is often a frustratingly unpredictable disease. Episodes can occur at varying times affecting different areas of the central nervous system. There is no one symptom that indicates the presence of MS. No single test can establish an accurate diagnosis.

It can be benign - in rare cases apparently disappearing altogether after one or two episodes. Or it can progress steadily over many years, bringing about a slow deterioration in an individual's capabilities. In reality, no two cases of MS are the same.

No one knows the exact cause of MS, but a mixture of genetic and environmental factors are likely to play a role in the development of the disease.

MS symptoms are varied and unpredictable, depending on which part of the central nervous system is affected and to what degree. The symptoms can be any combination of the five major health problems, including:

  • 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
  • Continence problems - including bladder incontinence and constipation
  • Neuropsychological symptoms - including memory loss, depression and cognitive difficulties.

Treatment & management
There are numerous treatments available to ease specific symptoms and slow progression of the disease. Medications might also be prescribed to manage acute symptoms such as pain, spasticity, fatigue, and bladder difficulties.

There are also many important lifestyle tips that some people have used to limit the impact of MS on their lives. Ultimately, each case of MS is different and treating and managing MS symptoms really comes down to an individual, their families, carers and loved ones finding the mix that best suits them.

References and further information

MS Australia is the national peak body for people affected by MS, including carers, loved ones, fundraisers, the MS research community and of course people with MS. This article is an excerpt of important information available from their website at


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