Throughout March, SIU Medicine is promoting multiple sclerosis (MS) education and awareness. Here are some facts about this common health condition.
1. MS is a chronic disorder affecting the nervous and immune system.
When someone has MS, their immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues within their central nervous system. Specifically, MS causes inflammation and damage to tissues called the myelin sheaths, which surround nerve fibers and acts as insulation to help signals and information move about the brain and spinal cord.
2. MS is one of the most common neurological diseases in young adults.
A recent study by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society found that more than 1 million Americans over the age of 18 are living with MS. It affects about 2.3 million people worldwide.
3. There are early warning signs of MS.
MS can impact multiple parts of the central nervous system, so signs and symptoms vary widely. Common symptoms include:
- Blurry vision
- Numbness and tingling
- Muscle spasms and Chronic pain
- Gastrointestinal problems, including bladder issues
- Balance and walking difficulties
- Cognitive issues, including memory loss and depression
4. Anyone can get MS, but some people are more at risk.
Research suggests women are two to three times more likely to get MS than men. Other factors, such as low vitamin D levels and smoking, also increase the risk of MS. It's not clear if MS can be directly inherited, but genetics likely play a role.
MS can also occur in any race or ethnic group, however it most often occurs in Caucasians of Northern European descent. Most people are first diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.
5. Multiple types of MS exist, each with different presentations.
Depending on the type of MS a person has, the symptoms and overall disease course can vary. For most people, MS symptoms arise and then go away (called relapse and remission) for weeks, months or years. For others, symptoms may persist and gradually get worse over time. Currently, doctors and researchers recognize four types of MS: relapsing-remitting, secondary progressive, primary progressive and clinically isolated syndrome.
6. Diagnosis and treatment is a highly individualized process.
MS can be a difficult condition to diagnose because its symptoms can be caused by other issues, plus there's no single test to confirm it. Instead, doctors need to run a variety of tests to rule out other conditions first. They might use blood tests, imaging studies, physical exam and medical history to confirm a diagnosis.
Treatments will be unique to the patient. Disease modifying medications and steroids are aimed at suppressing the immune attack. Physical therapy, psychotherapy, nutritional counseling and other interventions all can be beneficial.
7. Life for people with MS is getting better.
MS is chronic and incurable. Yet, while the symptoms of MS can be life-changing, most people with MS will not become severely disabled. About two-thirds of those with MS can still walk as the disease progresses, though it may require an assistive device like a walker or cane.
On average, life expectancy for people with MS is about seven years less than the general population. But with advances in treatment, MS patients are living longer and leading more active, fulfilling lives.
Do you or a loved one have MS? For compassionate support and cutting-edge treatment, contact SIU Medicine at 800-342-5748 and schedule an appointment with a doctor near you