Health and wellbeing
Living with multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis, known as MS, is a condition that seldom grabs the headlines. Yet it is an unpredictable and at times disabling disease of the central nervous system that affects more than 2.5-million
people the world over.
Multiple sclerosis is not a contagious disease, and it is not hereditary, so where does it come from? The exact causes of MS are not completely known, although recent research has brought us closer to understanding many of the mysteries of the disease.
Mounting evidence suggests a link between MS and exposure to the Epstein Barr virus, the virus that causes glandular fever. Researchers have found that patients with MS carry a population of immune cells that overreact to Epstein-Barr virus, with some people particularly susceptible to developing MS.
Genetics also seems to play a role in the development of MS. So too does a lack of vitamin D, which is manufactured in the human body after exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun's rays.
A disease of the central nervous system
According to Multiple Sclerosis South Africa, the disease attacks the myelin sheath, which protects the nerves in the central nervous system. The attack leaves behind many scleroses, or scars – hence, multiple sclerosis.
This can affect nerves anywhere in the body, and interrupts the flow of communication between the brain and the body, which is why those suffering from the disease can develop such a range of impairments.
MS is a disease characterised by
loss of feeling and loss of control of parts of the body.
The consequences can be devastating, as the disease attacks the brain, spinal cord and nerves of the eye, causing physical debilitation and a number of different types of disabilities.
Just how much disability a person will experience from MS, and when, is largely unpredictable, like so much else about this disease.
Most people with MS experience occasional relapses that tend to advance the progress of the disease. However, patients may live for many years without their condition deteriorating.
As the disease progresses, those suffering from the condition may experience severe fatigue and loss of mobility.
Being dependent on others for help and constantly having to ask for assistance can be devastating and depressing. Under these circumstances, or for a time just after a severe relapse, people with MS can enhance their independence with the use of a wheelchair.
One serious consequence of the public's misunderstanding of MS has a huge impact on how people cope with the disease.
Because employers in particular don't realise that a person with MS has a good life expectancy, and can be helped by modern drugs to remain productive, patients are afraid to tell employers that they have MS as they fear they will lose their jobs.
This secrecy may result in feelings of depression and anxiety for the person who has MS.
People with MS must not be scared to seek help from the start. MS is not that common, but there are still many sufferers. It is also important to remember that because there is no cure it does not mean that there is no treatment.
One final factor which may impact on your emotional state if you have MS is the understanding of friends and family. MS people need help when they ask for it but, most of all, they need the affirmation that they will be treated as ordinary human beings.
Awareness and understanding of the disease by the general public will help everyone with MS, and the people who live with them and care about them.
GEMS can help you to get more information on your healthcare needs. Phone the call centre on 0860 00 4367 and GEMS will assist you in every way possible to ensure your family's health and wellbeing.
The signs of multiple sclerosis
Early symptoms of MS may include the following.
Strange sensations in the limbs – tingling, numbness, itching and pain.
Loss of vision in one eye. Double vision.
Suddenly losing balance or having difficulty walking. Weakness in one limb.