One hundred people a week are diagnosed with MS in the UK and more than 100,000 people are living with the condition. Our understanding of the disease and how it affects the body is continually evolving and changing with new research and better technology.
MS can be unpredictable. One day you can seem fine and the next you can lose your sight or be unable to walk. This is particularly true of the relapsing form, where people have periods of attacks and then periods of apparent remission.
However, we now understand that MS continues attacking the body even when someone is not having a relapse, leading to permanent nerve damage.
This is what led us to our new medical consensus. Beginning treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis can suppress the disease and prevent long term damage.
Effective, early treatment
We see the benefits of effective, early treatment for people like Stephanie. Stephanie was diagnosed in March 2012 during her second year at university. Following diagnosis she was given extensive and objective information about the different treatments and the risks associated with them.
She decided to start a treatment that was right for her and it helped her manage her symptoms. This enabled her to go back to university and finish her degree. Since receiving treatment, she hasn't had a relapse and her MRI results show an improvement.
In contrast, there are people like Harriet, who tells us she wishes she had had the option to begin treatment closer to her diagnosis more than ten years ago. She had no treatment for the first few years, and her walking ability has deteriorated. She is now on treatment and hasn't had a relapse for five years. However she wishes she could have started sooner if it could have preserved more of her mobility.
Wait and see
Many neurologists still wait and see how the condition develops before beginning discussions about treatment. Currently, the most common treatment option for MS in its early stages is no treatment at all.
This country has exceptionally low prescribing rates for treatments of relapsing MS. The UK is ranked 25 out of 27 European countries on the proportion of people with MS prescribed these treatments; only Poland and Romania perform worse.
A UK survey of 10,530 people with MS in 2012 found that six in 10 people with relapsing MS weren't taking a treatment.
Right treatment at the right time
The MS Society is now calling for a treatment plan to be agreed with people with relapsing MS within six months of diagnosis. This allows time to consider the pros and cons of different treatment and have meaningful conservations with their health care professionals from diagnosis. We need an end to the 'wait and see' treatment culture.
Most importantly, people living with MS need to get the right treatment at the right time. We urge anyone with relapsing forms of the condition to book an appointment with their neurologist and discuss what options are available to them now.
This news may raise questions for many people with MS. Information or emotional support is available from the free MS Society helpline on 0808 800 8000.