Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease which attacks the central nervous system (CNS), consisting of the optic nerves, spinal cord, and the brain. It is a chronic disease and differs from individual to individual. Symptoms are mild to severe, ranging from numbness in limbs and vision loss to paralysis. The progress, specific symptoms, and severity vary from person to person. Multiple Sclerosis awareness is important so that it can be diagnosed at an early stage. March is Multiple Sclerosis awareness month and organizations worldwide are pushing MS to the spotlight to raise funds for research – and hopefully – to find a cure.
Multiple Sclerosis awareness: What exactly is Multiple Sclerosis?
In MS, the immune system attacks the CNS in individuals who are genetically susceptible or influenced by environmental factors. Scientists are divided as to whether it is an autoimmune disease or not, as the specific target of the disease has not been identified. MS is therefore referred to as an immune-mediated disease.
When an MS attack occurs, myelin i.e. the fatty substance that surrounds the nerve fibers and protects them gets, damaged. The nerve fibers too get damaged. The disease gets its name from the damaged scar tissue called sclerosis. Due to damage to the nerve fibers and myelin, the nerve impulses passing to and from the brain and spinal cord are interrupted and distorted, causing the MS disease symptoms.
Most of the people having MS can cope with it successfully and lead productive, satisfying lives.
Can Multiple Sclerosis be cured? The answer remains out of our reach, as there is no cure for it as yet, though it can be controlled using several drugs, which are known as DMT or Disease-Modifying Therapies. These medicines slow down the disease’s progression, reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups, delay disability, and increase longevity.
Who can get Multiple Sclerosis?
Approximately 2.5 million people suffer from MS worldwide. MS disease symptoms are usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 to 50.
Although women generally suffer more from the relapsing types of MS, it affects both men and women equally in the primary-progressive types. Geographically, people living in temperate climates are most likely to develop MS than people living in hot or cold climates.
MS is not contagious and cannot be inherited. However, it has been seen that the risk of getting the disease increases if someone in the family has it.
Smoking is a factor too. Women who smoke are 1.6 times are more at risk than those who don’t. Multiple Sclerosis awareness is important as early diagnosis can help slow down the disease’s progression.
Vitamin D and exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation can help to reduce the risk of getting MS. It has been observed that parasites also reduce the risk, as people in cleaner countries are more at risk of contracting MS.
How to effectively manage the symptoms?
The symptoms vary greatly and depend on the individual. To manage MS symptoms, there are medications which would be prescribed by the physician. There are OTC drugs too, also known as over-the-counter medicines, which help to keep the symptoms in check. Exercise and diet also play a role in managing symptoms, but changes in diet and exercise should be carried out after consulting the physician.
Multiple Sclerosis awareness can help patients to understand symptom management. For example, those people whose symptoms worsen due to heat intolerance should keep cool by using air conditioners or other cooling devices.
Occupational therapy, speech therapy, and therapeutic exercise offer relief too. Some MS sufferers who have stressful or physically demanding jobs may have to undergo a change in their career.
If a family member has been diagnosed with MS, it is advisable for the whole family to participate in some form of Multiple Sclerosis awareness counseling program. This would help everyone to understand the disease and how to help the patients emotionally and physically.
What do you do if you are ‘newly diagnosed’ with MS?
Once you are diagnosed as having MS, it will explain all the symptoms you may have been suffering from. You may feel relief and confusion as well as fear for the future. But knowing more about the disease through Multiple Sclerosis awareness programs will help you to chalk out your future plans.
MS is an unpredictable disease with its remissions and flare-ups. However, with the help of your physician and with experience, you will learn how to deal with it and live a happy, satisfying life. You can still fulfill your dreams and enjoy your life with some adjustments.