Northern Ireland’s Multiple Sclerosis charity

Frequently Asked Questions

Please find below a list of Frequently Asked Questions relating to Multiple Sclerosis:

  • How is MS diagnosed?

    There is no single test. Diagnosis will take account of a number of things such as:

    • Medical history,
    • Eye evoked response test;
    • Spinal fluid extracted by lumbar puncture;
    • Any damage in the central nervous system identified by an MRI body scan.

    These factors along with at least one previous MS attack and the elimination of other medical conditions usually allow a neurologist to make a definite diagnosis.

  • What causes MS?

    The cause of MS is not yet know.

  • Is MS infectious?

    No. MS cannot be passed onto someone else. Moreover it is not directly inherited although individuals who have a family history of MS have a slightly higher chance of developing the condition.

    Women are more likely to have MS than men.

  • What is an MS attack?

    An MS attack, also known as relapse, flare-up or MS exacerbation, occurs when part of the myelin sheath covering a nerve becomes inflamed.

    Consequently the messages passing along the nerve are disrupted. This may be disabling, give a sensation of being very unwell and can be very frightening.

    Such attacks may strike at different areas of the nervous system. Some people may experience a similar pattern of attacks while others will find that each attack causes different problems.

    Fortunately, as the inflammation dies down many of the symptoms clear away or ease considerably. Sometimes people will appear to return to how they were before the MS attack.

    The time between attacks is known as remission.

  • What is the effect of an MS attack?

    Inflammation of the myelin sheath may damage it and this can result in scar tissue. This only affects a tiny area of the nerve.

    The body has a wonderful ability to recover and the scarred areas may not cause a change in a person’ capabilities. However if the number of scar is concentrated along a particular nerve pathway then some disability may occur.

    An MS attack may last for some days or weeks.

  • Does MS always cause disability?

    Many people with MS have a mild form and are only slightly affected throughout their life while others experience no great level of disability for 10, 20 or more years. However some people may have attacks more often and a small number may deteriorate more dramatically becoming progressively disabled.
    Only the minority of people with MS may need to use a wheelchair.

  • What is the treatment for MS?

    MS symptoms can be relieved by medications and therapy or both. As yet there is no cure. Medication can help ease symptoms such as pain, tremors, muscle cramp and depression.

    Steroids may be given orally or by intravenous infusion (a drip) to help reduce inflammation, usually during an attack.

    Disease Modifying Therapies (DMT’s) are available in various formats: Injection able, oral forms and infusions. Further information relating to the most suitable format can be discussed with your MS specialist Nurse.

    Professionals such as physiotherapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists may all help make the most of capabilities, rehabilitation and learning to live with multiple sclerosis. Physical exercise, a good diet and periods of rest will help and these should be discussed with appropriate professionals.

  • What does the future hold?

    MS is not predictable. It is unique in its effects. There are many symptoms but not everyone will be affected in the same way. Consequently, it is impossible to predict what may happen over five years or ten years. Some people may have little physical disability after 30 or 40 years.

    Within five years of diagnosis it may be possible to identify the type of MS.

  • Does MS affect the mind?

    The uncertainty surrounding MS is a worry to say the least. It can lead to severe stress, especially during attacks and any subsequent reduction in function. Powerful emotions accompany this long term condition and the mental pain, like physical pain, needs to be recognised and understood by both the person with MS and those who care.

    Undoubtedly the impact of MS can contribute to depression associated with MS and this, like any medical illness, needs treatment, support and healing time.
    MS is not directly associated with any form of dementia. A few people may have difficulties with short term memory loss but this does not reduce their intelligence.

    The character of speech may be affected but this does not mean that the person cannot think quickly and accurately. Only a few experience confusion in understanding words and grammar.

  • Will children inherit MS?

    If there is a family history of MS then there is a slightly higher chance of children developing the condition.

  • Will pregnancy affect MS?

    There is no proof that pregnancy will change the overall progress of MS although if planning a pregnancy it is advisable to discuss this with the doctor.

  • What about the man’s fertility?

    MS does not affect a man’s usual sperm count.

  • Is MS painful?

    Most people with MS will experience physical pain to a greater or lesser degree. For some it may be an ongoing problem and for others it may occur only during attacks. This may take the form of shooting or burning pains in the area of the body affected. Stiffness associated with MS or strain due to reduced mobility may cause some pain or a sensation of cramp. Medication or therapy can help reduce pain. There is a wide range of drugs and the most suitable can be discussed with the doctor.

Free information booklets

If you would like more information please contact Action MS to request a set of free information booklets.

Need to talk to someone? Call us on 028 9079 0707

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Schools Campaign

The Action MS “Walk for MS” is about school communities taking steps to beat multiple sclerosis as well as developing caring attitudes.

Find out more about “Walk for MS”