WHO & WHERE
There seem to be some dominating factors in a large number of people with MS. First of all, it is twice as common in women as in men. Secondly, although MS occurs in all races, it is more frequent in white people. Among Caucasians, it occurs most often in those living in northern Europe or among Caucasians of northern European descent. (Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand.) This finding leads some to believe that a certain gene predisposes a person to MS.
Besides race and sex, MS seems to be affected by environment. In places where there is a high incidence of MS, there is one common factor. Cool temperatures. The higher the latitude the greater the cases of MS. MS is more common in Canada and the northern U.S. than it is in the southern U.S. It's more common in northern Europe than southern Europe as well.
MS affects more women than men
MS tends to appear in Caucasians more than any other race
MS is prevalent in those of northern European descent
MS seems to prefer the Northern Hemisphere
Another interesting tidbit is that MS tends to be more prevalent in those of middle to upper socioeconomic status (Tell that to us when we are piled under bills.)
In most cases MS is diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. It is rarely diagnosed under the age of 12 or over 55 years of age. Symptoms may begin at an earlier age, but since they tend to disappear rapidly, people tend to dismiss them.
Multiple Sclerosis can affect a person in many different ways. Some of the common symptoms include:
Fatigue Unsteadiness or dizziness
Depression Shaking and loss of coordination
Weakness Numbness and tingling
Memory changes Bladder problems
Pain Bowel problems
Visual loss Sexual problems
Many of these symptoms can be treated with various techniques such as medications, diet, exercise, and rest.
Some things that may worsen MS symptoms:
Heat. When getting overheated by outside temperatures or even a simple bath, people with MS may experience a temporary worsening of their symptoms until they get cooled off.
Fatigue. Most people with MS find that they feel better in the morning than evening. One of the first things a person with MS is taught is to, look, listen and feel. Some people even tend to get gray around the eyes as they come closer to a worsening of symptoms or a relapse. If you feel tired, and look tired, you probably need to take some time to rest.
Stress. Being stressed and anxious can wear on any person. Being worn down when you have MS usually means a worsening of symptoms. Try to avoid stressful situations or deal with them quickly in order to not prolong the affect the stress may have on you.
Symptoms can last anywhere from a few hours to days, weeks or even months. However sometimes a person may experience an unusual symptoms that lasts for only a few brief seconds or minutes. For example random slurring and brief weakness or unsteadiness, or shooting pains.
When a person experiences a worsening of original symptoms, it is called a fluctuation or flare-up. It is usually caused by fatigue, stress, or heat.
If a person experiences new symptoms, or a significant worsening of old symptoms that last more than 24 hours, it is considered an exacerbation, relapse, or attack. Fluctuations happen hour by hour whereas an attack lasts a day or more. Little fluctuations in your symptoms do not usually require any hospitalization. The symptoms tend to lessen when the stress is removed from the picture. These are not signs that your MS is going berserk.
In the case of an exacerbation, treatments with corticosteriods and hospitalization may be necessary. Always notify your doctor about your condition should it worsen.
WHAT & WHY
First of all, MS is categorized as a neurological disorder. That means it effects the nervous system. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the nervous system. This disease manifests in the inflammation and damage to the myelin and axons that make up the nerves.
For some reason, maybe a virus from childhood, or a defect in genes, (no actual cause has been pinpointed for MS) your immune system has decided that your body's myelin is a foreign invader or, in my description, a sumptuous meal.
Myelin is the juicy protein (think chocolate sauce) that insulates your axons (think cookie filling). The axons, like a phone line, are important for getting messages from your brain to your body. The myelin covers the axons and works as a protective insulation to keep out any damaging factors. (Like wild, gorging white cells for example.)
Your immune system is a very unpredictable connoisseur. The white cells (T&B-lymphocytes) never attack all the myelin at once. Instead, they roam from section to section, nibbling here and there, never satisfied. I envision it as a Las Vegas all you can eat buffet in my body. This process of destruction is called demyelination. If they chew through the myelin and damage the axon, the messages will get through slowly or not at all. As a result, the person with MS can experience delayed reactions, loss of sensation, or mobility in various parts of their body.
The leftovers, or spots of demyelination, are usually referred to as plaques. When these plaques enlarge or another plaque is formed, a person with MS may experience a worsening of old symptoms or new symptoms. Not all plaques cause attacks however. There are usually ten times more plaques than there are MS attacks. Whether or not a plaque produces symptoms usually depends on where it is located in the brain.
Multiple means many, Sclerosis means scars. In my own personal view I imagine the plaques as little holes in my head. The idea of having a "Swiss cheese" head appealed to me a bit more than the idea of scars. Plus it follows along in the food theme!
The different types of MS
There are a few different courses that MS can take.
Relapsing-Remitting. This type has clearly defined exacerbations (relapse) of acute worsening of neurological functioning. These attacks are followed by a partial or complete recovery (remission) between relapses that are free of disease progression. However, people with Relapsing-Remitting do still experience a general worsening of symptoms or flare-ups now and again.
70% of people diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis have this type of MS.
Secondary-Progressive. This type of MS is usually experienced after the person has had an initial period of Relapsing-Remitting. The Relapsing-Remitting is then followed by a steady worsening course of the disease without relapses or remissions. 50% of people with Relapsing-Remitting develop this form of MS within ten years of their initial diagnosis.
Primary-Progressive. This type of MS continually worsens from the beginning with no distinct relapses or remissions. There can be differences in the rate of progression over time and temporary improvements. This type affects about 15% of people with MS.
Progressive-Relapsing. This type of MS continually worsens or progresses but has distinct exacerbations with or without recovery. The difference between this type and Relapsing-Remitting is that the periods of remission are marked by a continued worsening or progression of the disease. This type is also rare affecting about 15%.
1. Learn all that you can about Multiple Sclerosis. You can not fight a battle if you do not know your adversary. MS does not have you. YOU have MS.
2. Get support. You are not the only one in this boat and you do not have to face this challenge without help. There are many organizations that can put you in contact with people like you. You will find support groups for your family members as well.
3. You are your own advocate. No one else is going to make sure you get the best health care, best information, and best support. If you find that your doctor or counselor does not have all the answers, search them out yourself. You do not have to remain in the dark.
4. Listen to your body. Ignoring your aches , pains, and fatigue to push yourself that extra mile will only cause you to fall faster and harder. If you're tired, rest. If you hurt, stop what you're doing and try to ease it. If you're sad, do what you need to let it out. Call a friend or cry. It's okay to need help.
5. It's okay to need help. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and reach out. You were able to get on the boat, but that is only the beginning. If you feel that you can't do something, ask for help. Don't push yourself. People who have MS need to listen to this rule. You are a super person, not a SUPERHERO. You can not take on the whole world if you have not taken on yourself first.
6. Go ahead and feel. Scream. Cry. Ask why. You have a right to feel what you are feeling. Contrary to what others may tell you, you don't have to "get over it." You will always have MS. You may learn to accept it, but you can never forget it. So, if you find yourself overwhelmed, go ahead and break down. Don't keep it all inside. Sooner or later, the storms will rage.
7. Laugh. Sure, it's not funny. Or is it? The ability to laugh at yourself can do more than you may think. Picture yourself on a roller coaster. MS is that roller coaster. You never know what will happen next. Will it drop or turn? Instead of gripping the seat, closing your eyes, and trying to change the track, throw your arms up and enjoy the wind in your hair.