Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is the most common disabling neurological condition affecting young adults. Around 100,000 people in the UK have MS. MS is most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40, and women are almost three times as likely to develop it as men.

Once diagnosed, MS stays with you for life, but treatments and specialists can help you to manage many symptoms well. Although its cause is not known and a cure has yet to be identified, research continues into all aspects of the condition.
MS is the result of damage to myelin – a protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system.  When myelin is damaged, this interferes with messages between the brain and other parts of the body.


MS is not directly inherited – unlike some conditions, like cystic fibrosis, for example, there is no single gene that causes it, in fact to date some 50 different genes have been implicated.

It’s likely that a combination of genes make some people more susceptible to developing MS, but not everyone with this gene combination will develop MS. Genes are only part of the story, an environmental trigger is needed to trigger MS in a genetically susceptible individual.


It is not clear why people further away from the equator are more likely to get MS, but it is possible that something in the environment, perhaps bacteria or a virus, plays a role.

No single virus has been identified as definitely contributing to MS, but there is growing evidence that a common childhood virus, such as Epstein Barr virus (which can cause glandular fever), may act as a trigger.

This theory is still unproven and many people who do not have MS would have also been exposed to these viruses, so just like genes, they are unlikely to be the whole story.

Vitamin D

There is also a growing amount of research that suggests that a lack of vitamin D could be a factor in causing MS.

We get most of our vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to higher numbers of people developing many different conditions, including MS.

While MS can occur more than once in a family, it is more likely this will not happen. There’s only around a two per cent chance of a child developing MS when a parent is affected.

For some people, MS is characterised by periods of relapse and remission while for others it has a progressive pattern. For everyone, it makes life unpredictable.

How Is MS Diagnosed?

Due to its complexity and variety of symptoms, MS is not easy to diagnose. There is no single diagnostic test and other conditions with similar symptoms may need to be ruled out before a final diagnosis can be made. Specific diagnostic criteria have been developed to assist healthcare professionals with making a diagnosis.

A neurologist should always be involved in the diagnosis of MS. Traditionally, it was only possible to confirm MS when there had been at least two occurrences of MS symptoms, each involving different areas of the central nervous system. However, it is now possible to determine if a person has MS after they have had only one occurrence of neurological symptoms, so long as there is evidence of new lesions on an MRI scan at least one month later.

The following are the most commonly used tests and procedures:

  • Neurological examination and history 
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) 
  • Evoked potentials
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Other tests

Detailed information about these tests can be found on the MS Society web-site 

Gallop – A Short Film About MS

Gallop is an enchanting, ground-breaking film, directed by BAFTA nominated film director Michael Pearce. Gallop has been developed and launched by, a web-based charity for people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) and has already been shortlisted for Best Short Film at this year’s Rushes Soho Shorts Festival. The spellbinding film featuring Hollyoaks actress, Holly Weston, has been created to help better convey the impact of a diagnosis with MS, the most common neurological condition affecting young adults. It uses narrative to explore the life-changing event of diagnosis through a compelling love story rather than solely focusing on the disease.


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