What is Multiple Sclerosis ?
Multiple Sclerosis is literally a "disease of many scars"
MS can be a very debilitating condition and in many cases can make even the simplest of tasks extremely difficult for the sufferer. However it's also very important to understand that there are lots of people across the world that have MS and are doing extremely well and lead very normal and active lives which is terrific. The problem for me is it's very rare to hear of positive examples of people living with MS as it would appear that people would prefer to concentrate on the negative. One of my main goals now is to change this, change the perception of MS across the world, and try and lead a life where I can actually walk the talk. Hopefully by going through my site, I will let you decide how I am getting on.
Let's get technical. The scars - or sclerosis- form on nerve fibres in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves which are the basic components of the central nervous system. Also known as plaques, these scars are the result of lesions that destroy the protective material that surrounds the nerve fibres. This material is called the myelin sheath. Similar to the insulation on an electrical wire, an intact myelin sheath keeps nerve impulses travelling rapidly and accurately along the nerve fibre. It acts a little like the body's broadband.
MS lesions eat away at the myelin sheath (damage the broadband signal), eventually healing into hardened scar tissue. This process is called demyelination. The scar tissue "short circuits" or interferes with the proper transmission of nerve impulses to various systems in the body. The result is a broad array of motor and sensory disabilities. If the sheath can regenerate itself - known as demyelination - normal nerve function may return. If not, the nerve will eventually die and the disability will be permanent. As the extent of nerve damage increases, the level of disability can grow progressively worse over time. Pretty nasty !!
Researchers believe the damaging lesions are caused by an autoimmune reaction, where the body's defence system mistakenly attacks it's own tissue. What triggers this abnormal immune response is presently unknown, although viral infection and/or environmental factors are suspect. Genetics may also play a role in susceptibility to the disorder. The immune system's assault causes inflammation of central nervous system tissues. the inflamed nerves then develop the destructive lesions that adversely affect a variety of functions depending upon the location and extent of the lesion damage.
I get a MRI scan every two years
These functions include
Balance and coordination
Who Has It ?
It is thought that around 2.5 million people worldwide have MS with around 100,000 people in the UK and 12,000 in Ireland. Personally I believe these figures to be a lot higher as many go undiagnosed for years. Interestingly it affects more women than men (by a ratio of 3:2) with symptoms usually becoming apparent in young adults (between the ages of 20 and 40) even though a firm diagnosis might not be made for many years. The youngest known cases of MS are just five years old but it is relatively rare for children to be diagnosed, although this is increasing year on year.
What Causes It ?
Truthfully - No one knows for certain - despite the vast amounts of research and financial investment. Various factors may trigger an inborn susceptibility to MS. Such factors may cause inappropriate activity of the immune system - the body's defence mechanism - causing the destruction of myelin [see above]
The researchers believe now that there are strong links between MS and those who previously suffered glandular fever. I myself had glandular fever as a young boy. There is another suggestion that a lack of vitamin D might also be a connection as the numbers of those affected increase the further you are from the equator. Others believe it to be genetic - as far as I am concerned, they need to hurry up and work it out.
What Problems Does It Cause ?
As with most chronic illnesses, the problems are both physical and emotional. The severity and incidence of symptoms vary enormously from person to person and even from hour to hour.
Muscle and Motor Disturbances including:
loss of control of one or more limbs; Myoclonus; Swallowing difficulties; Tremor; Inability to perform fine movements - e.g. doing up buttons, tying shoe laces etc; Legs or arms may suddenly go into spasm which is often painful, and walking may become very difficult when sticks or a wheelchair may be necessary.
Loss of Co-ordination & Spasticity including:
dizziness and vertigo; ataxia; staggering; clumsiness (spilling and dropping things).
intense desire for rest affecting motor and/or sensory nerves; dizziness and sometimes, in extreme cases, breathing difficulties.
retro-bulbar (behind the eyeball) and optic neuritis (inflammation of the nerve); temporary blindness.
impairment of sensory perception; loss of feeling, numbness, tingling; different degrees and kind of pain, including neuropathic pain.
an electric shock-like sensation which radiates down the back and into the legs when someone flexes their neck. It is a common early symptom of MS. In itself it is not a diagnostic however. it simply indicates a particular type of nerve damage, for which there are a variety of causes.
Bladder and bowel including:
frequency; urgency; retention; constipation; incontinence.
Speech difficulties and swallowing difficulties including:
slurring; scanning and choking.
cognitive problems including: loss of memory and mental concentration; depression.
loss of sensation and/or lubrication; impotence.
one of the lesser known symptoms of MS which, now at long last is being acknowledged and treated.