Learn the MS basics


With so many medical words to get used to appointments can feel overwhelming, but they don’t need to be! Use the explanations below to help make sense of these.

    A standard measurement in MS clinical trials that evaluates the average number of relapses — or MS symptom outbreaks – in one year.20

    What it really means:

    One way doctors measure how effective an MS treatment can be at preventing relapses and gives an indicator of how someone is doing.

    Persistent worry about major or minor concerns that interferes with daily activities, such as work, school or sleep. Anxiety can disrupt relationships and enjoyment of life, but can be managed by lifestyle changes, counselling and/or treatments.

    A condition where, often for unknown reasons, the body attacks its own tissues as if they were foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses.

    A selectively permeable, protective structure that regulates the passage of cells and molecules into the brain.21

    What it really means:

    A unique shield designed to protect the brain from things that cause damage or infection.

    Brain atrophy, or brain volume loss (BVL), is the loss of tissue in the brain due to the loss of neurons and the connections between them. Brain atrophy occurs in everyone and is a normal part of aging, but the damage caused by MS can make this happen a little bit faster.

    A state of mental slowness, confusion, or difficulty focusing, sometimes caused by inflammation and deterioration within the brain.18

    How it can feel:

    Learning to be patient and taking one step at a time while working to manage unpredictability.

    A substance in the blood, usually relating to a therapeutic agent, that can cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain tissue where it can deliver its effects.24

    How it can feel:

    Understanding terminology can feel empowering, even when living with MS makes it deeply challenging.

    An enzyme that activates specific immune cells to cause damage and could be associated with MS.25

    How it can feel:

    Understanding new terminology may lead to finding the right path to a new way of living with MS.

    The central nervous system receives, processes and stores information from the peripheral nerves and sends out messages telling the body how to respond. This consists of the brain and spinal cord and is enclosed within the skull and spine.

    Persisting for a long time or constantly recurring. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease. Other examples of chronic diseases include cardiovascular disease and diabetes.19

    How it can feel:

    Lives with us day in and day out - which can feel unrelenting.

    Your cognition refers to processes involved in knowing, learning and understanding things. These processes include memory, thinking, processing information, attention and concentration.

    This is a type of talking therapy that can help you to manage your problems by helping you to understand and change the way you think and behave. This can help you with problems such as anxiety and depression.

    A standard measure of disability using a symptomatic scale.22

    How it can feel:

    Working alongside a doctor to discuss new or ongoing symptoms can help identify how MS is behaving in one’s body.

    Counselling is a type of talking therapy - you can discuss how you’re feeling confidentially with your therapist and they may be able to suggest ways to help you deal with certain problems such as anxiety.

    A treatment used to treat a variety of conditions. It can help reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system.

    A group of treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS). They may work to slow the damage in MS such as lesions and brain shrinkage. They can potentially help to reduce the number and severity of relapses and slow disability progression.

    A system in the body that distinguishes everything foreign to the body and protects it against infections and foreign substances.

    Normally inflammation is how your body reacts to injury or infection. Inflammation is one way in which your body fights against foreign substances like bacteria and viruses while also getting rid of any of your cells which are already dying. But if inflammation happens when it’s not supposed to, it can cause damage, like in MS.

    Also called an intravenous infusion, an infusion is a method used to administer treatments directly into the vein via a drip and is usually carried out in hospital.

    A way of administering medication using a needle and syringe. There are different types of injections including subcutaneous (which are injected under the skin) and intramuscular (which are injected into the muscle).

    A lesion (also called a plaque) is an area of the central nervous system that has been damaged or scarred by MS. Sclerosis means scarred. Lesions look like white patches on an MRI scan. Lesions are caused by the inflammation that happens when the immune system attacks myelin.13

    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues in the body. MRI is used on the brain and spinal cord to help diagnose multiple sclerosis.14

    What it really means: 

    One piece of a larger puzzle that helps us better understand MS diagnosis and disease management.

    Brain-specific immune cells that usually serve protective roles, but when activated in MS can direct damage to myelin and nerve fibers.26

    What it really means:

    The brain’s way of protecting itself—sometimes going a little too far.

    A chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system (CNS). In multiple sclerosis, inflammation attacks the myelin and stops and/or limits the information transmission from nerves.5

    The protective layer around the nerve fibres in the central nervous system (CNS), which the immune system mistakenly attacks in MS, causing inflammation.5

    Damage to healthy brain cells that can worsen over time. Leads to irreversible damage to the central nervous system impacting brain health.27

    How it can feel:

    A dark cloud hanging overhead.

    An inflammatory response in the brain meant to protect against damaging attacks such as injury, infection, or toxins. MS can mistakenly trigger this process.17

    What it really means:
    Persistent inflammation may make the brain work harder, changing how MS can impact the body. 

    A condition which occurs when the optic nerve, which transmits images from the retina to the brain, becomes inflamed. This can lead to symptoms such as: blurring or a blind spot in the centre of your vision, colours appearing darker or washed out, light flashes when you move your eyes and pain, especially when you move your eyes.15

    A medication such as a tablet or capsule that is taken by mouth.16

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