According to Public Health England figures, there are approximately 130,000 people living with the condition – that’s one in every 500.
But despite its prevalence, some living with MS still think ‘not enough’ people know about it and say it can be an ‘invisible’ condition as symptoms are not always obvious.
MS is an autoimmune condition – which is when something goes wrong with the immune system and it mistakenly attacks a healthy part of the body – in this case, the brain or spinal cord of the nervous system.
This causes a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, fatigue, pain, sensation or balance.
It's a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability, although it can occasionally be mild.
Some may be limited to wheelchairs permanently while others are able to walk, leading to a ‘lack of understanding’ from members of the public.
So for those affected, raising awareness is almost as important as tackling the symptoms.
This MS Awareness Week (April 25 – May 1) one treatment centre in Portsmouth is hoping to both boost awareness and funding to keep supporting patients.
The Solent MS Centre in Hewett Road, North End, has been taking part in a sponsored Get Moving for MS challenge for centres nationwide – with staff, members, carers and volunteers contributing towards a 100 kilometre stretch in a ‘virtual journey’ from Land's End to John O'Groats.
They can choose to use exercise bikes or adapted versions, with others cycling outside and tracking their distances. All profits will go back into running the centre.
Southsea resident, and Solent MS Therapy Centre member Jane Winfield, 69, was diagnosed with MS in 2006.
She told The News: ‘It is a difficult condition because it affects people differently and not everyone understands.
‘They might think “lazy girl” because I’m sitting in a wheelchair but they don’t understand I can’t move one leg and I can’t do all the things other people take for granted.’
Jane has been attending the therapy since her diagnosis.
The charity-run site offers a number of different therapies and equipment including a pressurised diving chamber, oxygen concentrators and physiotherapy room, which can help members – who pay donations to use services – manage their fatigue and breathing.
Once a week Jane comes in to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) within the diving chamber.
‘It helps me with my energy levels,’ she said.
‘I can feel when I come out that I have so much more energy and am able to do more.’
Her husband Martin, 66, will be doing his bit in the cycling challenge.
He said: ‘Anyone who has MS in Portsmouth should come and see what the centre can offer.
‘If you look at the figures I think there must be a lot of people here in the city with MS who aren’t members.’
Another member, Jan Allen, travels from Clanfield to the centre once a week for HBOT.
The 58-year-old said: ‘I’ve had MS for 41 years and been coming here since last year.
‘When I first came here I had had a bad relapse and couldn’t walk, but now I am able to walk.
‘The main thing is it boosts my energy levels massively.’
The mum-of-three added: ‘There isn’t really that understanding because people might not know I have MS.
‘To look at me walking sometimes people would think I’m drunk.
‘I had an incident where I used a disabled toilet in Sainsbury’s. A woman outside said: “Why is she in there?”
‘I do think people need to be more aware of what it is we’re living with.
‘The worst part is not knowing how it’s going to affect me day-by-day as it varies so much – I might not know if the next day I’m going to be unable to move or too tired to do anything.’
The NHS states that feeling fatigued is one of the ‘most common and troublesome symptoms’ of MS.
It's often described as an ‘overwhelming sense of exhaustion’ that means it can be a struggle to carry out even the simplest activities.
HBOT is used at the centre to increase the amount of oxygen people are able to take in, which in turn improves breathing and energy levels.
Ruth Jansen, operations assistant at the centre, said: ‘The thing with MS is it’s on quite a spectrum – someone might need to be in a wheelchair all the time whereas someone else can walk.
‘It’s so important people have an understanding of MS because it can be an “invisible” condition.
‘With our Get Moving for MS challenge we’re raising money for the centre but also spreading the word.’
So far the combined efforts of all taking part have seen them overtake their 100km goal, as well as their £500 target.
Centre manager, Jo Jennings, said: ‘It’s been great to have all different people taking part and doing as much or as little as they want.
‘We’ve smashed our £500 target, which will help us keep running the centre for all our members.’
The centre also caters to people with other diseases and conditions including cancer and nerve damage.
Since the pandemic it has also been providing oxygen treatment to long Covid sufferers.
To donate visit justgiving.com/campaign/GetMovingforMS.