Let’s get down to the basics

What is MS?

MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system, or more simply, the nerves in your brain and your spinal cord.1

Pathophysiology of multiple sclerosis (MS)

There is quite a lot known about the pathophysiology of multiple sclerosis, or the causes and consequences of MS. It is thought to be an autoimmune disorder, which means that your immune system mistakenly attacks parts of your body.1 In particular, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibres. This interrupts the communication between your brain and the rest of your body. Over time, the damage and deterioration of the nerves becomes permanent.2

Healthy Neuron

Multiple sclerosis pathophysiology (part 1): T-cells normally protect the body by attacking invaders such as viruses.

Damaged Neuron

Multiple sclerosis pathophysiology (part 2): In MS, some T-cells attack and damage the myelin sheath of neurons which in turn interrupts the signals between your brain and body.

Are there warning signs of MS?

Because there is no typical pattern of symptoms, the early signs of MS can be different for different people.

One of the more common early symptoms of MS is a problem with vision, known as optic neuritis.4 Numbness and tingling may also be one of the early signs MS can cause. However, these symptoms can all be caused by other things and aren't necessarily a sign of early MS symptoms.

Speak to your GP if you are worried about any symptoms or think you have warning signs of MS.


Signs and symptoms of MS in females and males

While there is a wide range of MS symptoms, they vary from person to person. Importantly not everyone will experience them all. And it makes no difference whether you are male or female. Signs and symptoms of MS may include the following:3

  • Extreme tiredness/fatigue
  • Visual disturbance e.g. blurred or double vision
  • Difficulties with balance, coordination or walking
  • Dizziness and vertigo
  • Changes in concentration, speech or memory
  • Sensitivity to heat and/or cold
  • Muscle weakness, stiffness, spasms or tremors
  • Feelings of tingling, numbness or pins & needles
  • Pain
  • Sexual changes
  • Changes in bladder and bowel
  • Changes in mood or emotions

This video on the pathophysiology of multiple sclerosis, explains what MS is and why symptoms occur

The information in this embedded video has been developed by the author(s) of the video. Novartis has not been involved in the creation of this content. The intent of providing this material is informational and not as advice. Any information provided by this source should be discussed with your healthcare professional and does not replace their advice.



  • Kamm C , et al. Eur Neurol 2014;72:132-141.
  • Mayo Clinic. Multiple sclerosis – symptoms and causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350269 (last updated 12 June 2020).
  • MS Research Australia. What is multiple sclerosis (MS). https://msra.org.au/what-is-multiple-sclerosis-ms/ (date of last update not specified)
  • MS Society. Early signs of MS. https://www.mssociety.org.uk/about-ms/signs-and-symptoms/early-signs-of-ms (date of last update not specified)