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MS Symbols: Ribbons, Butterflies, and Why Awareness Matters

Posted on May 23, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Megan Cawley

Raising awareness of multiple sclerosis (MS) helps contribute to the well-being, support, and understanding of the MS community. One way some people choose to raise awareness of the condition is by honoring World MS Day, which takes place on May 30 of every year.

The goal of World MS Day is to highlight the stories and voices of those living with multiple sclerosis. While the event is a notable one, it’s just one way to raise awareness of the condition.

Here, we will explore the different symbols used to represent the MS community, and share why awareness plays an important role in furthering understanding of multiple sclerosis.

The Importance of Awareness

By increasing awareness of MS, you help others become more familiar with the condition, as well as its impact. Multiple sclerosis awareness can come in a variety of forms, like major annual events. World MS Day, instituted in 2009 by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF), came about in order to reach and inform people across the globe about the experiences of those living with MS, their caregivers, and their families.

Since then, the organization has spread its message to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. It has held yearly campaigns to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis and work toward an MS-free future, all while providing support to the 2.3 million-plus individuals living with multiple sclerosis around the globe.

Other forms of awareness rely on individual representation, though the smaller scale does not make them any less impactful. For example, the MS community chose two symbols to represent it and its mission: an orange butterfly interlaced with an orange awareness ribbon. You may have seen this combination icon before — either online or in your daily life.

What’s important to remember is that these symbols, like World MS Day, community fundraisers, social media outreach, and more, are incredibly significant to the MS community. They help raise awareness of MS and they help those with the condition feel seen, heard, and most importantly, understood.

The MS Ribbon

The MS awareness ribbon is bright orange, and while it does share the awareness color with other diseases (including leukemia, kidney cancer, melanoma, and ADHD), those living with MS look fondly on the ribbon because of what it represents for them.

One MyMSTeam member shared that he used his Christmas light display as a means of supporting awareness both for his MS and his son’s Angelman syndrome. The display featured an orange awareness ribbon and a blue awareness ribbon side by side, decked out in lights with the word HOPE between them.

Another user honored MS awareness by painting an orange ribbon design onto her nails with polish. Others display it through photos on their social media pages, jewelry charms, or even through tattoos. Each of these ways enables those with MS and their loved ones to take ownership of the condition. At the same time, they raise awareness of what the MS community experiences.

The MS Symbol: A Butterfly

An orange butterfly as a symbol of MS might be less well-known than an MS orange ribbon, but it is just as important for some members of the MS community.

One MyMSTeam member asked others how — and why — the MS community landed on a butterfly as a symbol. Another replied that it was chosen because of the caterpillar to butterfly cycle. “They are considered a symbol of life transformation,” the member wrote. Essentially, butterflies can represent how some people in the MS community feel when they transform their post-diagnosis lives for the better. Another member shared a different take. “It is a sign of HOPE,” they posted. Yet another member pointed out that MRI scans of brains with MS resemble images of butterflies, hence the use of the symbol.

You can find the butterfly logo on T-shirts, jewelry, stickers, and countless other forms of expression that those with MS and their allies can use to help raise and spread awareness of the condition.

Why MS Awareness Matters

Awareness is important because it helps both the people at the center of the MS community and those outside of it. For the millions of people in the world living with MS, seeing global outreach and education surrounding their condition can help them feel more seen and accepted by others. It can help take away the taboo of conditions that may not seem as common or as talked about in the public consciousness, and help fight stigmas that can arise when certain conditions are misunderstood or even feared.

Awareness can also help those with MS feel like they aren’t alone. Hearing other people share their MS stories, the feelings and hardships they’ve endured both before and after their diagnoses, and how they overcame their struggles can be uplifting and empowering for those living with MS. It also helps make the reality of MS even more tangible and understandable for those who don’t live with the disease. This way, it gets the word out and encourages others to do something as they show support in the battle against MS — for treatment, for understanding, and, ultimately, in hopes to find a cure.

Find Your Team

On MyMSTeam, you become part of a community of more than 186,000 members who understand life with multiple sclerosis, either as someone with the condition, or as the loved one of someone with it. On MyMSTeam, members share their stories, ask questions, offer support and advice, and connect with members from around the world who understand life with multiple sclerosis.

How about you? Do you wear or display symbols of MS awareness? What do the symbols mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by posting on MyMSTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Megan Cawley is a writer at MyHealthTeam. She has written previously on health news and topics, including new preventative treatment programs. Learn more about her here.

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