MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS AWARENESS MONTH
March has been designated Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, to educate the public about MS and to encourage support for the nearly 400,000 people diagnosed in the United States with this unpredictable and often debilitating disorder.
(MS) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the myelin sheath, or the protective protein coat around nerve fibers. This results in inflammation, which further damages the myelin sheath as well as the nerve cells themselves, and the cells that produce myelin.
While not contagious, it can be devastating if untreated and challenging to diagnose. Symptoms often develop over time. Many times, physicians must rule out other conditions before making a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
Over time MS affects the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord. Each day, those living with multiple sclerosis do everything they can to push forward. Despite all the challenges they face, those affected persevere and many people are not aware of the struggles that MS patients work to overcome on a daily basis.
Common signs of the disease include difficulty with balance, coordination and walking which ultimately limits mobility, overwhelming fatigue, numbness or tingling, and vision problems. These symptoms can vary widely depending on which nerves are affected and the level of damage to the nerves.
The immune system attack on myelin causes a disruption in electric signals traveling along the nerve fibers from the brain to the body and back. As a result, patients with MS experience many symptoms, including fatigue, numbness and tingling, muscle spasms, walking difficulties, pain, and bowel or bladder problems. Many patients also experience emotional changes, including depression, anxiety, and mood swings.
There is no single test to definitively diagnose MS. Physicians diagnose the disease based on a series of physical and neurological examinations that can help eliminate other conditions. These tests include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), blood and cerebrospinal fluid tests, and tests that measure electrical signals from the brain.
FORMS OF MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
Clinically isolated syndrome
Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis
Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) is the most common type of MS. Patients experience attacks of increasing neurological symptoms, called exacerbations or relapses, followed by periods of partial or complete recovery. At various times, patients may have active, not active, or worsening neurological symptoms.
Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis
Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS) is the secondary stage of MS that follows RRMS. Patients may have relapsing-remitting episodes initially but then experience a steady worsening of neurological symptoms.
Primary progressive multiple sclerosis
There are many treatments available for MS, and many more experimental treatments are being developed. Most therapies aim to suppress the immune system to reduce inflammation and help protect the myelin sheath.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO OBSERVE MS AWARENESS MONTH
• Learn more about multiple sclerosis and its symptoms. Visit www.mymsaa.org to find out how to provide support to a loved one or a friend who has MS.
• Use #MultipleSclerosisAwarenessMonth to share on social media.
• Reach out to someone you know who has multiple sclerosis. Talk openly with them about it to learn more. While it may be a tad uncomfortable at first, they will be glad you wanted to learn more.
“Multiple sclerosis may be a part of who you are, but it doesn’t define you as a person. You are who you are, and MS can’t take that away from you.” –Clarissa, diagnosed in 2006