People with multiple sclerosis (MS) may end up in wheelchairs. People with MS climb mountains and run marathons. Both statements are true, but neither accurately describes what it means to have MS.
MS is a widely misunderstood disease — not only by the general public, but even by those who live with it. The goal of March’s MS Education and Awareness Month is to promote understanding of MS and to help people with MS to make educated decisions about their health care needs.
While much progress has been made in research and treatment of the condition, an equal amount of mystery remains. That mystery often leads to a sense of isolation and fear, and newly diagnosed patients don’t always know where to turn for information. (MS Info on the Web)
What is MS?
MS is a neurological disease in which myelin — the substance that protects neurons — is damaged, forming lesions in the central nervous system that interrupt the transmission of electrical currents to the rest of the body. There may be nothing wrong with your legs, for instance, but your brain may have difficulty transmitting the signal to move them.
Relapsing/Remitting MS is the most common form at onset, causing relapses (otherwise known as exacerbations or flare-ups), followed by periods of remission. Remissions can be as short as a few days or as last many years. (Pseudo-exacerbations in MS: Grounded in Reality) There are also several types of Progressive MS, in which symptoms worsen over time.
MS is not contagious.
What are the symptoms of MS?
Symptoms vary greatly from patient-to-patient, from day-to-day, and from year-to-year. Severe fatigue is the most common complaint. While symptoms are often invisible, MS is a serious medical condition. (Dealing with Invisible Symptoms of MS)
Other symptoms include, numbness, visual impairment, slurred speech, tremors, difficulty swallowing, cognitive impairment, vertigo, pain, lack of coordination and, in the worse cases, paralysis and blindness. (A Typical Life with MS) MS is not a psychological condition, but depression is also a common symptom.
Prognosis is near impossible.
MS has a huge impact on the entire family, as well as the patient’s social and employment network, affecting others in profoundly significant ways. (MS: A Family Affair – Multiple Sclerosis in the Marriage)
Though MS itself is rarely fatal, complications due to MS can be.
Next: Who Gets MS… Diagnosis… Treatment Options…