Multiple sclerosis: an invisible disease?

This year’s MS Awareness Week runs from 19–25 April 2021 in the UK, providing a valuable opportunity to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis (MS) and its impact on people living with this sometimes invisible disease.

So, what is MS?

MS is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that causes inflammation, demyelination of nerve cells and axonal degeneration. A typical feature of MS is the presence of lesions in the brain or spinal cord resulting from demyelination. The damage to nerves can cause a wide variety of neurological symptoms that are dependent on the specific location of the damage. As a result, each person’s symptoms and experience of MS will be different.

There are three main types of MS: relapsing–remitting, secondary progressive and primary progressive MS. Approximately 85% of people are diagnosed with relapsing–remitting MS, which typically starts in their 20s or 30s. This form of MS is characterised by sporadic symptomatic episodes known as relapses. Symptoms often come on rapidly and can last from a few days to several weeks. People generally recover well from relapses and may go into complete remission, but some neurological problems may linger. After 15–25 years, many people with relapsing–remitting MS gradually transition to secondary progressive MS, where they have fewer or no relapses, and instead their symptoms and disability continue to worsen. The final type of MS is primary progressive, seen in ~10–15% of cases, where disability accumulates from the onset of symptoms. People with this form of MS tend to experience the onset of symptoms about 10 years later than those with relapsing–remitting MS.

How common is MS?

MS is the most common non-traumatic disease that results in disability in young adults. Globally, there are an estimated 2.5 million people with MS, of which approximately 130,000 live in the UK. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and MS is almost three times as common in women than in men.

What are the symptoms of MS and how can MS be invisible?

Fatigue, walking difficulties, problems with eyesight, memory and thinking, numbness and tingling, and pain are some of the most common symptoms of MS. However, people with MS may also experience muscle stiffness or spasms, issues with balance and coordination, difficulties controlling the bladder and bowel, and sexual problems. The symptoms of MS can significantly affect people’s quality of life, impacting their ability to work, take part in social activities and complete daily living activities.

As many MS symptoms are invisible, people with MS may feel frustrated, anxious and isolated if they have to cope with negative or flippant reactions to their MS from other people, as well as managing their symptoms. On top of this, MS symptoms can come and go making life unpredictable for people living with this disease.

If you would like to learn more about MS, hear people with MS tell their stories or access support on living with MS, you can explore the resources available from the Multiple Sclerosis Trust and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Is there a cure for MS?

While there isn’t a cure for MS, disease-modifying treatments can reduce disease activity, the number of relapses, and disease progression in relapsing–remitting MS. Fewer treatments are available for progressive forms of MS but B-cell-depleting therapy reduces disease progression in primary progressive MS.

Research into treatments for MS continues to be extremely active and multiple potential therapies with novel mechanisms of action are in development. Hopefully, in the near future, new treatments will become available that will provide further clinical benefits for people living with MS.

Bioscript are proud to support our clients in this important therapy area. We provide exceptional insights and expertise to help our clients communicate how their products may improve the lives of people with MS. To find out more about our experience in MS, please get in touch!


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