Chronic, debilitating disease of the central nervous system
No proven cause and no cure
Symptoms worsen progressively up to paralysis, speech impairment, and blindness
Kills: MS reduces life expectancy by 7 years! (by comparison, flying a small airplane, which is perceived as dangerous, reduces life expectancy by only 6 months)
Devastates the prime years of those it touches: MS generally strikes as early as the late teens, and renders 60% disabled over time. Some end up in a wheelchair before the age of 30, many before 40
Prevents people from doing simple things: walk to the kitchen, use a fork to eat, type at a computer without becoming exhausted, or travel aboard a commercial flight
Over 2.1 million people affected globally, with 1.4 million (70%) in the US and Europe
50,000 children affected globally
Real numbers are likely much higher: MS is notoriously undiagnosed - even in the developed world - for years after it strikes, until symptoms become very apparent. In the developing world, MS may not be diagnosed at all.
"I don't want to be in a wheelchair. I don't want to go blind."
Tricia was just 24 and a new mother when MS struck. Watch her extremely emotional clip, already seen by 127,000 people.
MS is a progressive disease: MS symptoms worsen over time, and can lead to paralysis, speech impairment, and blindness, devastating the prime years of those it touches. The most visible symptoms of MS are those on motor functions, such as impaired ability to walk, extreme fatigue, making many people with MS wheelchair bound, in many cases while they are still in their 30s. But MS affects the brain more broadly, impairing cognitive functions, such as memory and thinking. Therefore, many people with MS cannot do things that most of us are taking for granted, such as walking to the kitchen, typing on a computer keyboard without becoming exhausted, or travelling aboard a commercial flight.
There are different types of MS: Relapse-Remitting (by far the most common), Secondary Progressive, Primary Progressive, and Progressive Relapsing. MS is generally characterized by "attacks", known as relapses or exacerbation of multiple sclerosis. During attacks people experience a sudden deterioration in physical abilities, typically lasting for a few weeks at a time. Each attack generally increases the permanent deterioration of those affected.
MS affects different people very differently. When mild, MS may not be noticed most of the time. During this time many people with MS "hide" their disease, fearing that knowledge of it would change the attitudes of their family, friends, and employers. Once MS is more severe, people are generally pushed out of work, and they retract in their shells, remaining invisible to the rest of us. These are the main reasons why we, the broader public, know so little about MS and the lives of those with MS.
People with MS want nothing more than to live as normal, full and active lives as possible. They are in fact desperately crying out to be helped to do just that. Some of them are in relatively good physical and mental shape, while the many who suffer from some form of disability would still love for society to consider them useful, and keep them integrated with the rest of us. "Use us!" wrote to us one person with MS.
"I can't eat without putting half of the food on me"
Lauren, 26, was struck by MS when she was just 16. Below, she films herself during the most debilitating phase of MS, a relapse, to help others deal with the disease.
This very moving video alone has been seen by over 30,000 people. Lauren has been one of our earliest supporters.