What is Multiple Sclerosis?

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Image source: empowher.com

BY: ALLISON BROWN

In my last article, I shared information on Lupus. This article is meant to provide you with information about another autoimmune disease; Multiple Sclerosis.

Multiple Sclerosis or MS is an autoimmune disease (a disease that attacks the body) that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). MS specifically attacks and damages the protective cover of the central nervous system; myelin, thus causing inflammation. We require myelin to carry nerve impulses through our nerve fibers.  Depending on the degree of damage will result in the severity of disruption of those impulses.

Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world. The rate is 1 in 340 persons.  People aged 15-40 are generally diagnosed; however, children and older adults can be diagnosed as well. Usually, those from and Eastern European background are typically those who have MS.  The symptoms of MS vary from extreme fatigue, lack of coordination, weakness, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes. This disease leaves those who are diagnosed with emotional, physical, and financial challenges.

Research suggests that MS is caused by lifestyle, the environment, genetic and biological factors. There is no cure for MS, however; research is being done on gender, age, familial history to see if more information can be gleaned.

Typically, a family doctor will refer the person to a neurologist and who will carry out various tests and subsequently send the person for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan or MRI to see if the tissue has been damaged in the brain.

MS will be experienced differently by different people.  However; there are different categories of the disease.  Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS) is typically experienced by 85% of those diagnosed with MS.  It is characterized by “flare ups”, attacks, or exacerbation of the disease followed by periods of remission where functions return.  Progressive MS (PMS) occurs when the person is diagnosed and they get progressively worse from the time of diagnosis with resulting disability. Secondary PMS is when the person progresses from RRMS disability and symptoms progress slowly over time.  Progressive Relapsing MS is when the disease progresses slowly from diagnosis and experience relapse with or without recovery (https://mssociety.ca/about-ms/what-is-ms).

There are medications that are prescribed for MS. The medications are prescribed based on the category of MS that the person might be in. The medications help to counter inflammation and protect the nerves.  Although medications are available to help with many symptoms, medications may be only part of the answer. Often, rehabilitation strategies such as physical therapy and occupational therapy are very helpful in improving and maintaining normal function. Consultation with specialists such as urologists, psychiatrists, and pain management specialists may be extremely helpful. Changes in mobility may require a specialist in orthotics as well as the physical and occupational therapist.   A coordinated, comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to MS care is the best approach for the long-term management of multiple sclerosis according to John Hopkins Medicine.

I know someone who has been diagnosed with MS for years now and she is in remission.  She works hard and it makes me realize how blessed people are who do not have to live with a chronic illness. Some of the medications are quite expensive and unless one has some sort of medical coverage I am sure there is as stated above the added stress of perhaps not being able to afford medications. Imagine waking up in the morning feeling exhausted because you did not have a good night rest and you have to go to work the next day.  I have become painfully aware of how easy it is to take health for granted.  By sharing these articles and information on the autoimmune disease, I do hope you; the reader will gain some insight into the lives of those who must work to have a quality of life while living with a chronic illness.  Let us be more patient, understanding, and empathetic with others.

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