Multiple Sclerosis touches the lives of more than 2.5 million people worldwide, and still remains one of the most misunderstood, recondite diseases to date. Commonly referred to as MS, it is an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system, leading to a multitude of different symptoms, from cognitive, physical, and even psychological. Individuals often experience MS very differently, as there is 4 different types; relapsing remitting, secondary progressive, primary progressive, and progressive relapsing. The impact this disease holds is devastating and breaches into every aspect of life. With no known cause or cure, the unpredictable life sentence this disease holds reaps emotional tolls just, if not more, extreme than the physical (Multiple Sclerosis In Depth Report). It is important to know what the disease is, what it may look like, what current research says about its future, and how you can help.
Because MS is a disease of the central nervous system, it impacts the the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Myelin sheath, a fatty substance encoding nerve fibers in order to protect it, is attacked and destroyed by white blood cells and antibodies, eventually damaging the nerves themselves. There is no known reason why this occurs or how it is triggered. Most commonly diagnosed are those in their 20’s or 30’s, but women are twice as likely as men to have it. It is found to be much more prevalent in northern climates and in those with a family history of the disease. Symptoms between people may be different and appear in a variety of ways, but some of the earliest most common include, but are not limited to vision problems, tingling/numbness sensations, muscle weakness, fatigue, mood swings, and imbalance. Though of the greatest, and seemly underrated impacts of the disease is the emotional toll. Suicide rates in the MS community are well above the average. Multiple Sclerosis is not considered a fatal disease, except in very rare and severe cases, and most people with the disease tend to live normal life spans. Because it is such an erratic disease, it tends to be difficult to diagnose. An array of tests are used including neurological exams, an electrical nerves test called an EP test, MRIs, and a spinal fluid test.
As previously stated, there are four different types of Multiple Sclerosis. Described by the National MS Society, 85% of those impacted by MS have the relapsing remitting type. These patients experience occasional and sporadic stages of relapse followed by either partial or complete recovery. Between 10-20 years, this form of the disease will enter the secondary progressive type. Instead of come and go relapses, the disease begins a steady, continual down spiral. It is difficult for even health professionals to identify the shift from one type to another because MS is such an individualistic disease. The third type of the disease is primary progressive. This type is unique in its older diagnoses age occurring around 40 years old and poor response to treatment, probably the most disheartening aspect. Primary progressive leads to disability much quicker than relapsing remitting type. The final type, progressive relapsing, is least common only experienced by 5% of people with Multiple Sclerosis. Unlike relapsing remitting type, when relapses occur, symptoms worsen instead of recovering (MS Society).
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease whose impact breaches beyond merely physical. This disease will be felt in every aspect of one’s life from everyday tasks, relationships, and even things as simple as reading or walking. It’s unfathomable until it is an unfortunate reality. MS-UK writes:
“The idea that people who have MS might become mentally, as well as physically, impaired is a particularly frightening one. Our ‘concept of self’ is more often associated with our minds than our bodies. Loss of mobility is disabling, but loss of mental faculties strikes at the very core of our