What is multiple sclerosis?

body

Everyone's body is full of nerves. Your nerves are the things that carry messages from your brain to different parts of your body.

So, if you want to walk, your brain's nerves tell the muscles in your legs what to do. And they do it – fast!

The brain works like a telephone, sending messages down a cable. Only the cable is your spinal cord – the nerves that run through the middle of your backbone. Your brain and spinal cord are called the central nervous system.

When somebody has multiple sclerosis, the nerves in the central nervous system don't always work properly, so messages may not get through as they should.

Multiple sclerosis means many scars

Some people with multiple sclerosis might not be able to walk very well, because only a part of the message gets through. Sometimes a message is blocked completely, and the person can't walk at all. Other people with MS can walk easily any time, but find it hard to throw a ball, or see properly, or talk clearly. Just about any part of the body can be affected, so different people have different symptoms.

Scientists are learning more and more about MS every day. With the help of people like you, they can continue to work hard to find the cause and cure for this disease, while the MS Society provides many services to help tens of thousands of Canadians with MS and their families.


Symptoms

Many people who have MS have symptoms because of the disease. Symptoms might mean it is harder to do some things you usually do, like walking or picking up things or it might mean having trouble seeing or speaking clearly. For example, when you have a cold your nose gets stuffed up. A stuffy nose is a symptom of a cold.

Different people with MS have different symptoms. Sometimes they have certain symptoms one day and other ones the next.

Here are some symptoms your mom or dad might have sometimes:

Feeling Really Tired

MS can make a person feel very tired. Have you ever stayed up really late? How did you feel the next day?

Some people with MS feel that way all the time, even if they get lots of rest. You may notice your mom or dad just doesn't have much energy sometimes.

Numbness

Remember the last time you sat on your leg the wrong way and your foot "went to sleep"? Remember the numbness and tingly feeling you got when you moved?

Sometimes MS gives people that "pins-and-needles" feeling in their arms and legs, but they can't make it go away by moving around.

Heavy arms and legs

Some people with MS say that their arms and legs feel heavy. Imagine how it might feel to have weights tied to your arms and legs when you're trying to walk upstairs or set the table! That's how some people with MS describe the feeling.

Things look blurry

MS can sometimes make seeing hard. Have you ever tried on someone else's glasses? Did everything get blurry or did you see two of everything? Sometimes MS can make people see like that.

Speaking

Sometimes people with MS will find that they have some trouble when they try to speak. Their words might get mixed up or be hard to understand. This may come and go, or some people may find it happens mostly when they get very tired.

It's not like that all the time…

All of these symptoms can come and go suddenly. They might not be so hard to manage or they might be really hard. No one knows exactly why. MS can be very confusing - even for the doctors. It may take a while for a doctor to find out what's wrong. People can't decide on their own that they have MS. They have to go for special medical tests and it takes time to be sure.


Who gets MS?

Anyone can get MS. It usually happens to people who are older than 15 and younger than 40. Doctors and scientists don't know yet what the cause of MS is.

Sometimes people feel guilty or think that something they did may have caused MS to happen to them or to someone in their family. They shouldn't feel this way because no one is to blame; it isn't anybody's fault. Nothing you do can make MS happen. It is something that just happens in life and we can't control it.

What we can do is try to understand it and the changes it brings.

No one likes MS but it's not all bad either. Sometimes, when something different like illness happens, it adds something to our lives that we wouldn't have had otherwise. You and your family are special - they're not like any other family in the world. Your family includes a person who doesn't always feel great and who might sometimes need extra help. Even if this is hard sometimes, it can also make your family feel very close because of the giving, sharing and caring you do together.

Even if your parent can't teach you to play ice hockey or go for long hikes with you, there are many things you can share…many things you can talk and think about together… many things you can learn from each other. If your mother or father is home during the day, you may have extra time to spend together.

Helping each other through the hard times and the good times can teach you a lot about people.