A mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife and a friend. Of course let’s not forget the father, son, brother and husband. It could be a teacher at your child’s school, it could be a co-worker or it could be your neighbor. These are the many faces of Multiple Sclerosis. It is estimated that more than 2.1 million people in the world have MS and that doesn’t count the people who have MS and don’t know it. With its vague symptoms that can be completely invisible the actual numbers of MS can only be estimated.
Multiple sclerosis is a unpredictable and debilitating disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The myelin sheath, the protective covering that surrounds the nerve cells, is damaged. The nerve signals slow down or stop (think of damaged insulation covering an electrical cable). This damage is caused by inflammation from one’s own immune system attacking the nervous system. Therefore MS is categorized as an auto-immune disease. Nerves in any part of the brain or spinal cord may be damaged and as a result symptoms may appear in many parts of the body. Symptoms vary and may last days, weeks, or months.
There are many treatments out there and many treatments are in development for Multiple Sclerosis, however there is no cure. The goal of the treatments available is to reduce relapses and slow down the progression of the disease. Although there are several choices of treatment for MS all are extremely potent and can have intolerable side effects. All or none of these drugs my have a positive effect on your multiple sclerosis. As MS can vary from person to person it is not uncommon to switch medications several times to find if one will work better than the other.
Diet and exercise is another way that you can help your brain. From diabetes to alzheimers and yes, multiple sclerosis, the Sunshine Vitamin, vitamin D has been shown to decrease the risks and improve symptoms of many diseases. Studies have shown that vitamin D can positively affect MS by reducing proinflammatory cytokines, as a result, vitamin D may reduce inflammation. Inflammation is what causes an exacerbation, relapse, or flare-up, whatever you want to call it. Regular exercise in MS patients may help with heart health, weight management, fatigue, stronger bones, bladder control and depression.
The mental toll that MS takes on its sufferers is just as debilitating as its physical symptoms. When I was originally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 10 years ago, I was a 27 year old young woman with her whole life ahead of her. I felt like my life was over. I cried and cried. Then I researched and researched and became informed. It took a few weeks for it all to sink in but now, 10 years later, I am somewhat OK with it. My life has not changed much since then…I can’t run as well as I used to…but everything else seems fine. However, there is not a day that it doesn’t cross my mind…what if one day I end up in a wheelchair? What if one day I can’t see? What if I can’t take care of my kids? In my case the mental aspect of dealing with multiple sclerosis is worse than the physical debilitation that I have experienced. Not to mention when somebody comments on how “you look so well”. I guess that is a compliment but I don’t necessarily feel fine. I decided to start writing about MS more than anything to vent out my feelings and frustrations, for my sanity, for my own education and hopefully to help others along the way.