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Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. It is the most common neurodegenerative disease in young adults, affecting nerve impulses within the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. It occurs when tiny scars develop within the central nervous system and, depending on where in the system they develop, these scars then affect the body's function.

MS symptoms vary from person to person, as they will depend on which part of the central nervous system is affected and to what degree.
The symptoms can be any combination of the following five major health problems, including:

  • Motor control - muscular spasms and problems with weakness, coordination, balance and functioning of the arms and legs
  • Fatigue - including heat sensitivity
  • Other neurological symptoms - including vertigo, pins and needles, neuralgia and visual disturbances
  • Continence problems - including bladder incontinence and constipation
  • Neuropsychological symptoms - including memory loss, depression and cognitive difficulties.

Symptoms information provided by MS Australia.

  • MS affects over 23,000 people in Australia

  • Roughly three times as many women have MS than men

  • Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20-40

Causes and treatment

There isn't one known cause of multiple sclerosis. It is likely that genes play a part in its development, but there is no evidence to suggest that it's a hereditary disease. Gender has been identified as increasing risk, as roughly 80 per cent of sufferers are female. Environmental factors have also been identified, with risk factors including smoking, lack of Vitamin D, living further away from the equator, stress and some viral infections.

While there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, there are many medications available to both ease symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse and disease progression. Steroids are often used during a symptom flare up, while immunotherapy medications can reduce their frequency. As multiple sclerosis presents differently in each case, the best forms of treatment will vary greatly depending on the person. Talking to your neurologist is the best place to start in developing a treatment plan.

How the Florey is making a difference

Our researchers are using a combination of preclinical models and human genetic screens to unravel the cellular changes that give rise to multiple sclerosis. We have identfified an important set of signalling molecules on immune system cells and on the cells that provide neurones with their insulating myelin wrapping. Using brain samples from multiple sclerosis patients, we are unravelling the role of somatic genetic mutations which build up over time and may pre-dispose some people to the progressive form of multiple sclerosis.

Find out more about our MS research [PDF, 1.5MB]

Support and information

For more information contact MS Australia on 1300 010 158.

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Brain health affects all Australians.
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