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Do you know someone who is suffering from Multiple Sclerosis? It’s a sneaky disease that can rob and disable even the most vibrant of people. March is National MS Education and Awareness Month. And there’s a lot of information out there regarding Multiple Sclerosis (MS). It can be overwhelming, so we thought we’d just cover the basics here. 

Taken straight from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s website: “MS is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body.”

The Mayo Clinic explains it this way: “In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves.” 

As of now, Multiple Sclerosis has no known cure. However, treatments can help speed recovery from attacks, modify the disease’s course, and manage symptoms. 

Signs and symptoms of MS may differ significantly from person to person throughout the disease, depending on the affected nerve fibers’ location. Severe MS patients may completely lose the ability to walk, while others may be lucky enough to go into long periods of remission. 

Common early signs of multiple sclerosis (MS) include:

  • Vision problems – Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at a time, often with pain during eye movement, prolonged double vision, blurry vision
  • Tingling and numbness – Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs that typically occurs on one side of your body at a time, or your legs and trunk, “electric-shock” sensations that occur with specific neck movements, especially bending the neck forward (Lhermitte sign)
  • Tremor, lack of coordination, or unsteady gait
  • Pains and Spasms
  • Slurred Speech
  • Weakness or Fatigue
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Problems with bladder, bowel, and sexual functions

The cause of multiple sclerosis remains unknown. Experts consider it an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. As far as MS goes, this immune system malfunction destroys the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord (myelin). Myelin is like the insulation coating on electrical wires. When the protective myelin is damaged and the nerve fiber is exposed, the messages that travel along that nerve fiber may be slowed or blocked.

According to United Brain Association, there are four distinct types of MS:

  • Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. In this type of the disease, symptoms come and go. Between attacks, people often feel better, and the disease stops its steady progression. The disease typically flares up again over time. These relapses are followed by quiet periods of remission that can last months or years. About 80% of people with Multiple sclerosis have this type of Multiple sclerosis.
  • Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. In this type, symptoms of MS come and go but then worsen over time. Many people start with relapsing-remitting Multiple sclerosis and progress to secondary progressive disease. About 60-70% of people with relapsing-remitting Multiple sclerosis eventually develop secondary-progressive Multiple sclerosis.
  • Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. In this type, symptoms gradually become more severe as the disease progresses. The disease comes on gradually and onset and progresses steadily without remission. Approximately 15-18% percent of people with Multiple sclerosis are diagnosed with this form of the disease.
  • Progressive Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis. In this type, symptoms gradually worsen and are accompanied by attacks that come and go. Progressive relapsing Multiple sclerosis is a rare form of multiple sclerosis that initially appears with constant symptoms. People with progressive relapsing Multiple sclerosis also experience clinical attacks marked by more severe symptoms.

No one really knows why MS develops in some people and not in others. It is believed, however, that genetics and environmental factors may play a significant part. 

Multiple Sclerosis News Today warns that these factors may increase your risk of developing multiple sclerosis:

  • Genetics: While MS is not a hereditary disorder, studies have shown that having immediate relatives such as a parent or siblings with MS may greatly increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.
  • Certain infections: A variety of viruses have been found to increase the risk of developing MS. There is mounting evidence that some viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) may be possible co-factors in MS development.
  • Smoking: Research has shown that smokers are 1.5 times more likely to develop MS than nonsmokers. It has been found that cigarette smoking not only increases the susceptibility towards MS but may also contribute to rapid disease progression.
  • Obesity: People who are obese are also at an increased risk of developing MS. For example, a Canadian study found that an elevated body mass index (BMI) may influence MS susceptibility.
  • Environmental factors: Environmental factors such as climate are also believed to be risk factors for MS. For example, people living in countries and regions with climates such as Canada, Northern Europe, New Zealand, and the northern US are more likely to develop the disease.
  • Certain autoimmune diseases: The prevalence of certain autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are known to slightly increase the risk of developing MS.
  • Age, sex, and race: Demographic factors such as age, sex, and race may increase an individual’s risk of developing MS For example, the risk of developing MS increases with age. In addition, due to genetic variations, women are twice as likely as men to develop the condition. In terms of race, MS is more common in people of Northern European descent than people of Asian, African, or Native American descent.

Although there is no cure as of yet, people who suffer from MS don’t need to lose hope or give up on their quality of life. Physical therapy and medications that suppress the immune system can help with symptoms and slow disease progression. MS patients can and do lead vibrant, rich lives full of joy and gratitude. If you know someone who has MS, ask them about their story and how MS has affected them. You may walk away with new awareness, understanding, and appreciation of someone.