Be Aware of Multiple Sclerosis


Every March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month, a time for sufferers, family members, and supporters to share information, sympathy, and camaraderie, drawing attention to this disease of the central nervous system. If you’re not familiar, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) happens when one’s immune system attacks the nerve cells and renders them unable to properly transmit information, causing balance issues, weakened vision, fatigue, and other unpredictable symptoms. Approximately 2.5 million people worldwide suffer from multiple sclerosis. Because the specific target of the immune attack in MS has not yet been identified, MS is referred to as an immune-mediated disease.

About 2.5 million people worldwide suffer from the disease. This figure includes an estimated 400,000 in the U.S. Strangely, people who reside in more temperate climates are more likely to develop MS than those living near the equator — or in the far north or south.

The symptoms can be unpredictable. Those affected by MS typically contend with extreme fatigue, difficulty walking, balance problems, and weakened vision. MS symptoms can be inconsistent, varying among individual patients.

There’s no known direct cause. Environmental factors, infectious agents, and immune reactions may all play a role, and scientists are looking into genetic markers within families.

To learn a little more about MS, here are some facts from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s website:

>> The farther one lives from the equator, the higher one’s risk of MS. Researchers are exploring whether sunlight exposure is a protective factor, and are looking at many other risk or protective factors for clues to the cause of MS.

>> MS is unpredictable. An individual’s disease progression, severity, specific symptoms, and response to therapies cannot be easily foreseen. But an international team of researchers is taking clues from patterns of MS damage seen in the brain to try to predict the best treatment for any individual.

>> Women are more prone to developing MS, but when men get the disease, it can be more severe.

>> Our brains have stores of cells capable of replacing myelin, the protein-rich insulating layer around the nerves that is attacked by MS.

>> Researchers believe that a person’s genes determine whether they are susceptible to developing MS, yet even identical twins have different risks for the disease, depending on their experiences.

>> MS costs the US economy about $28 billion per year.

>> Deeper understanding of destructive and protective immune factors is opening up new opportunities for turning off the attack or protecting brain tissues. Experimental therapies in the pipeline include some in pill form.

Depression is a common and often overlooked symptom of multiple sclerosis, and anxiety is perhaps the most taxing and under-treated psychological effect of living with MS. Understandably, these significant health issues have been exacerbated by the physical, emotional, and financial toll of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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