Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that affects the central nervous system.
It interferes with nerve impulses within the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Over 23,000 people in Australia live with MS and more than two million are diagnosed worldwide. MS is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, with three times as many women diagnosed than men.
Sclerosis is the Greek word for ‘scars’, which refer to the scars that develop within the central nervous system before symptoms present themselves.
Symptoms of MS include:
Fatigue - including heat sensitivity
Other neurological symptoms - including vertigo, pins and needles, neuralgia and visual disturbances
Continence problems - including bladder incontinence and constipation
Neuropsychological symptoms - including memory loss, depression and cognitive difficulties
There are three stages of MS which range from mild, moderate and severe.
Relapsing-remitting (RRMS) is the most common form of MS. This stage involves partial or total recovery after attacks. Between 70 and 75 percent of people with MS begin with relapsing-remitting MS.
Secondary progressive (SPMS) is where attacks and partial recoveries may continue. Of the 70-75 percent who start with RRMS, more than half will develop SPMS within a decade, with 90 percent living with SPMS within 25 years.
Primary progressive (PPMS) is a stage where symptoms generally do not disappear. Roughly 15 percent of people living with MS are diagnosed with PPMS.
Most people with MS can expect to live 95 percent of the normal life expectancy.
There is currently no known cure for MS, however, a number of treatment options are available to help manage symptoms and slow progression of the disease.
Some medications to control MS symptoms include:
Disease modifying therapies, also called immunotherapies. These work by modifying the activity of the immune system to slow the frequency and severity of attacks to the central nervous system. These medications are most often prescribed for people with RRMS.
Steroid medication (such as methylprednisolone) is often used to control the severity of an MS attack by easing inflammation at the affected site.
Immunosuppressants, such as methotrexate or mitoxantrone are sometimes used, especially for people with PPMS.
For someone living with MS the key things to remember are stay as active as possible, maintain a healthy body weight, keep your mind active, avoid smoking, limit alcohol consumption and take your prescribed medications.