Did you know it is estimated that around 100,000 people in the UK have Multiple sclerosis (MS) and I was surprised to read that it affects three times more woman than men and between the ages of 20 and 40. Once diagnosed MS will stay with you for life but the symptoms can be managed.
Multiple sclerosis is a complex neurological condition. When the coatings around the nerve fibres (called myelin) become damaged, the messages that should travel quickly and smoothly between the brain and the rest of the body become distorted and slow down.
Most of us will take our immune system for granted, however if you suffer with MS, your immune system which normally helps to fight off infections, mistakes myelin for a foreign body and attacks it. This damages the myelin and strips it off the nerve fibres, either partially or completely, leaving scars known as lesions or plaques. This can sometimes cause damage to the actual nerve fibres and it is this nerve damage that causes the accumulation of disability that can occur over time.
There are three types of MS:
Relapsing remitting MS
This is the most common type effecting around 85 per cent of all people diagnosed. It means that symptoms appear and then fade away, either partially or completely.
Secondary progressive MS
This is a stage of MS which can come after relapsing remitting MS. It means there is a sustained build up of disability which is completely independent of relapses.
Primary progressive MS
This affects about 10-15 per cent of people diagnosed with MS, symptoms will gradually get worse over time, rather than appearing as sudden relapses.
No one knows the true cause of MS, but it could be a combination of genetic and environmental triggers. It is likely that a combination of genes make some people more prevalent to developing MS but that doesn’t mean that everyone with this combination will go on to develop MS. There is also only a 2 per cent chance of a child developing MS from a parent that is affected by it.
MS is not directly inherited, unlike some conditions below:
Huntington’s disease affects the central nervous system and is an inherited genetic disease. The disease typically presents itself in adults between the ages of 30 to 40, though it can develop earlier or later in life. Patients with Huntington’s experience progressive loss of muscle control and motor functioning, as well as dementia, memory loss and personality changes.
I was surprised to read that Hemophilia is an inherited bleeding disorder. Under normal conditions, injury to blood vessels stimulates the formation of clots, made up of cells called platelets, which block the site of injury and stop the bleeding. Patients with hemophilia cannot form clots, so they continue to bleed for extended periods following injury.
Symptoms of MS
These could include the following, however not all people experience the same:
- vision problems
- difficulties with walking
- bowel problems
- speech difficulties
- swallowing and tremors
There are lots of options for treating and managing MS. They include drug treatments, exercise and physiotherapy, diet and alternative therapies.
Coping with MS
I have learnt that for many people being diagnosed with MS can be overwhelming, even frightening and distressing at times and for others, it can be a relief, especially if they’ve had symptoms which couldn’t be previously explained. Often, it can be a combination of all the above.
Some people have said the one way to deal with the initial reaction is to look at it like a rollercoaster ride. At first there is fear and anticipation, then once you’re seated there’s the realisation that you can’t turn back. Then the ride begins and you go through different emotions – there are highs and lows. Some people are able to cope with the ride and others find it too frightening.
It’s not only the person given the diagnosis that might experience these reactions, but also loved ones around them. Family members and close friend may react differently, for example, their partner is in denial while the person with MS might feel relief.
Many MS suffers carry on life as though nothing has happened to them, they just find the fatigue means they can’t exercise for as long, or the loss of some body strength may mean they can’t drive for as long, but it appears that most people do not view it as a life-long debilitating illness.
My closing thought would be: it can be too easy to judge someone from a first impression and for people that suffer from MS this initial impression will not be the true reflection of the person inside. Remember it is not always the body movements or what their speech may sound like that matters think first, they may have a neurological condition.