Your MS cheat sheet


Being diagnosed with MS is a very daunting and frightening time. It can be difficult to take in what your doctor is telling you, let alone understand all the different scientific words and acronyms. Don't hesitate to ask your doctor or nurse to explain what the different words mean – they don’t expect you to be an expert or to understand everything at first. It is also a good idea to try and learn more about MS when you are ready.

ICONThis list of definitions might
come in handy when you are
reading about MS.

  • Ataxia – Inability to coordinate movements
    involved in walking
  • Atrophy – A decrease in the volume of brain or
    muscle tissue
  • Autoimmune disease – When the immune
    system attacks parts of the body
  • Axon – Thin nerve fibres that transmit signals between the nerves of the brain and spinal cord; the axons are protected by a covering known as myelin 
  • Bell’s Palsy – A cause of paralysis of the face which may involve twitching, weakness, a drooping eyelid or corner of the mouth, drooling, dry eye or mouth, excessive tearing in the eye, and impaired ability to taste
  • Central nervous system (CNS) – Consists of the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord and is involved in sending and receiving messages throughout the body
  • Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS) – A single attack, or the appearance of one or more symptoms of MS, which often leads to a diagnosis of MS
  • Cognition – Mental processes such as memory, decision making and concentration
  • Demyelination – Damage to the protective covering of the nerves (myelin) of the CNS which can cause an interruption in messages being sent to and from the CNS
  • Dysarthria – Speech that is slurred or poorly articulated
  • Dysesthesia – A type of pain that is experienced as burning, aching, or “pins and needles” under the skin
  • Dysphagia – Difficulty swallowing
  • Lesion – An abnormal spot on the brain or spinal cord that can be seen by a scan
  • Lhermitte’s sign – An electric shock-like sensation down the spine and legs when the neck is flexed forward
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – A technique that is used to scan the brain and/or spine to assess damage 
  • Myelin – A fatty protein that protects the nerves 
  • Nocturia – The need to urinate during the night
  • Nystagmus – Involuntary movements of the eyes that result from lesions in the brain stem, and appears as uncontrolled side-to-side or up and down movements of the eye 
  • Optic Neuritis – Swelling in the optic nerve which causes decreased or blurred vision
  • Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS) – A form of MS that presents as a gradual but steady accumulation of neurological problems from the onset, without the presence of relapses and remissions
  • Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS) – A progressive course of MS from the onset with relapses occurring later in the disease course
  • Relapse – An exacerbation or temporary worsening or recurrence of existing MS symptoms, and/or the appearance of new symptoms which can last from a few days to a few months followed by complete or partial recovery (remission)
  • Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) – Relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis is a form of MS that includes temporary symptom flare-ups (also referred to as relapses, attacks, exacerbations or bouts), which typically last for one to three months followed by complete or partial recovery
  • Remission – A reduction and stability in the severity of MS symptoms, including the disappearance of symptoms
  • Remyelination – The repair of myelin, which covers and protects the nerves
  • Secondary-progressive MS (SPMS) – A form of MS which follows relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) and is reached when the patient experiences a progressive worsening of symptoms
  • Spasticity – A tightness or stiffness of the muscles that mainly occurs in the legs, groin, buttocks, arms or hands
  • Vertigo – A spinning or rotating sensation