Understanding Multiple Sclerosis: Quick facts
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most debilitating illnesses known to medicine. It affects approximately 2.3 million people worldwide, and in the US alone, it is estimated that 200 new cases of MS are diagnosed each week. On the bright side, with the range of medications currently available for MS, a lot more people are living normal and close-to-normal lives.
Here are 10 quick facts about MS you should know.
It is a disease of the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord).
It is a demyelinating illness. Our nerves are coated with a sheath called myelin, which is there to help nerves communicate with each other. In MS, these sheaths progressively degenerate. This process is called demyelination.
The cause of MS is thought to be autoimmune. Autoimmune refers to a phenomenon where the body’s immune system turns around to attack the body’s own cells. Viral infections, smoking, low sun exposure, low vitamin D, genetics and family history, and month of birth are also thought to play a role in the genesis of MS.
It is up to 4 times more common in women than it in men (LOL, I know! I’m offended too girl! We need to have a chat with mother nature right now). The reason for this is not well understood but a study in 2014 came out to say the reason might be due to a difference between the male and female brains. The study reported that the female brain produces higher amounts of a particular protein (Sphingosine-1-Phosphate Receptor 2) compared to the male brain, and this protein accumulates in the areas of the brain where MS seems to damage the most.
There are a variety of medications available to treat the symptoms of MS, as well as slow its progression. Although there’s still no definitive cure, it’s not a lost cause, considering even more medications have been approved in the past few years to be used in MS patients. Medications can be used to slow progression, minimize symptoms and delay impending disability.
Although MS can be diagnosed at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in the 20s and 30s. The average age of diagnosis is 34 years.
Diagnosis of MS is confirmed by doing a brain scan (MRI) and testing the Cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord), looking for markers of the disease.
Management of MS takes a village. Most medical specialties will usually be involved in caring for patients living with MS. The team will usually include neurologists, specialist nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, dieticians, psychologists, social workers, public health nurses, palliative care teams and so on.
It is a progressive and irreversible illness. It does not reverse but its progression can be slowed, and symptoms controlled to a large extent with appropriate medications, making it possible for people living with MS to go about their lives relatively comfortably.
MS symptoms are diverse because of the disseminating nature of the disease. They are different for each person, and very unpredictable too. Some people remain symptom-free for many years at a time, and some experience severe symptoms from the onset.
References: www.journalofclinicalinvestigation.org; www.healthline.com; www.Msdiscovery.org. Picture references: www.iflscience.com; www.beatricebiologist.com; www.imcreator.com; www.vanderbilthealth.com; www.endocrinologyadvisor.com. Featured image: www.bestmedicinenews.org
Dr. Wendy Evans-Uhegbu is a graduate of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, with experience in Connected Health, Medical Technology, Clinical Research, Medical Education, and Web Design. She is a member of the Medics Abroad team with the role of Chief Communications Officer. She also runs a Medical Communications and Publishing business, and is the author of the newly published children’s book “The Things Around Me”.