Multiple Sclerosis actually means 'many scars'. The words are used to describe a major disease of the nervous system, which literally becomes 'scarred' and stops functioning properly. A very simple way of describing what goes on in MS is to compare the nerves that run throughout our bodies to electrical wiring - like the wiring in a house. The wire carries electrical signals, and is insulated by a plastic coating. Our nerves conduct signals around the body - rather like the wire, and are also insulated. The insulating material is called 'Myelin', and it is this that gets damaged in MS.
Areas of the myelin become inflamed (as yet the cause of this is uncertain), the body then tries to heal this damage with a little 'scar' or 'plaque' which prevents the signals from passing easily through the affected nerve any more. Short circuits and muddled messages happen instead of easy conduction - just like damaged wiring.
The Nervous System runs all the main functions of the body. This drawing is very simplified, but shows how nerves are connected to the brain and fan outwards from the Spinal cord. In Multiple Sclerosis, damage can occur almost anywhere, but usually takes place in the brain and the spinal cord itself. The damage is indiscriminate, totally unpredictable, and can cause havoc. Symptoms from numbness in fingers and toes, blindness, loss of the use of limbs to incontinence and having difficulty swallowing - terrifying things that strike the individual out of the blue, often quite suddenly.
Multiple Sclerosis affects more women than men, at a ratio of about 3:2. It can be called a 'young persons' disease as most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 years. The symptoms can disable very rapidly, or remain relatively mild, but as mentioned above, the way the disease affects an individual is unpredictable. There is currently no cure for MS, though various treatments are available at the centre for the symptoms of the condition.