How MS affects the brain: silent changes

In MS, researchers believe that the immune system attacks the protective coating of the nerves in your brain and spinal cord, causing areas of inflammation and damage and slowing down electrical signals.

Sometimes MS-related brain damage is silent and does not cause noticeable symptoms. But your neurologist can see the damage with a test called an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan.

Neurologists look for brain lesions on your MRI scan. These are areas of the brain that have been damaged by MS.

Even when you don't have noticeable symptoms, MS could still be silently damaging your brain. That's why it's so important to talk to your neurologist about MS brain effects and MRI markers of MS brain damage such as brain lesions.

How MS affects the brain: cognitive changes

About 50% of people with MS will have some degree of cognitive changes, which may include difficulties with:

  • remembering recent events
  • finding the right words
  • information processing
  • spatial tasks (e.g., finding your way around)
  • planning and organizing
  • making decisions
  • solving problems

Cognitive changes can have a major impact on your quality of life. They are also the main reason why people with MS leave their jobs.

Most people experience only mild changes – only 5–10% will have moderate-to-severe changes.

MS symptoms vary from person to person, so you may not experience all of these symptoms.

If you notice cognitive changes, speak to your neurologist about what you can do to manage them, and about how to optimize your MS treatment.

Even if you don't have any cognitive changes, MS could still be silently damaging your brain. Talk to your neurologist about the invisible effects of MS on your brain. Ask your doctor about markers of silent MS brain damage such as brain lesions shown on an MRI scan.