06 Aug What happens in MS? Is everyone’s MS the same?
Your immune system is your body’s natural defense system which helps your body fight against infections.
Your central nervous system contains nerve cells that process information and communicate messages to and from different areas of your body triggering a response, such as lifting your foot when walking or contracting the muscles in the bladder wall so you can empty your bladder.
In MS your immune system mistakenly attacks your central nervous system. When the attack happens, the immune system targets the protective covering around your nerves (called myelin). This covering is there to protect your nerves and help messages travel along with them smoothly.
When myelin is damaged (called demyelination) messages don’t pass along your nerves as efficiently as they used to so messages can be delayed or sometimes may not get through at all. These areas of damage are called lesions and they cause the symptoms you experience.
After an attack, your body is able to repair itself to some extent. In the earlier stages of MS, your body has the ability to replace the damaged myelin (called demyelination), although it tends to be thinner than unaffected myelin so the messages may not travel as fast as they did before. Your brain also has the ability to reroute messages to avoid an area of damage so that messages can still get through – this is known as plasticity.
MS is thought to be an autoimmune and neurodegenerative condition. Autoimmune because your body is attacking healthy cells and neurodegenerative because the loss of myelin can leave nerves exposed and more vulnerable to long-lasting damage.
Is everyone’s MS the same?
No, everyone’s MS is different. MS is divided into three main types:
- relapsing-remitting MS
- secondary progressive MS
- primary progressive MS.
Some neurologists prefer to divide MS into relapsing MS and progressive MS so you may come across this classification too.
Sometimes there can be some doubt as to which type you have, especially when you’re first diagnosed.
Your neurologist may have told you which type of MS you have. If not, you can ask your neurologist or MS nurse at your next appointment although they may not know yet. Keeping a diary with brief notes on any new or changing symptoms can help your neurologist better understand the type of MS you have.