Normally antibodies produced by the immune system help to protect the body against viruses, bacteria and other foreign bodies. However, sometimes in some cases, these antibodies view other cells in the body as foreign bodies and attack them; these attacks damage these cells and in such cases the person is said to have an autoimmune disease.
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease. In this instance, the antibodies produced by the immune system attack the substance that surrounds and protects the nerve cells. In the Central Nervous System (CNS), the nerves are surrounded by a myelin sheath. Myelin is a white fatty substance that protects the nerves. Apart from protecting the nerves, myelin also helps the nerves conduct electrical signals quickly and efficiently. When these antibodies attack the myelin sheath, they leave the nerves exposed and vulnerable.
Multiple sclerosis which means scar in multiple areas affects normal sensation, thinking and movement. Symptoms vary from person to person depending on the area of the body where the myelin sheath is damaged. Symptoms of MS may come and go. Flare ups could last for days, weeks or months. After an episode, symptoms may disappear for a while, but scars can form and permanently affect nerves in that area. Common symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis include:
Vision problems; including double vision, blurriness, partial colour blindness, eye pain, partial or complete loss of vision in one eye.
Thinking and memory problems
Muscle weakness, dizziness or tremors
Numbness or weakness on one side or the bottom half of your body
Trouble with coordination and balance
Loss of bowel or bladder control
Sensations such as numbness or tingling (pins and needles)
Electric shock sensations which may come as a result of moving your head in a particular way.
Multiple sclerosis is not a fatal disease. People diagnosed with MS essentially have the same life expectancy as other people in the general population. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (USA), the majority of people who have MS will experience a relatively normal life span. Most people with MS tend to die from many of the conditions as those who don’t have MS – like cancer and heart diseases. NMSS also affirms that two thirds of people diagnosed with MS are able to walk without the help of a wheel chair two decades after their diagnosis. Some people will need crutches or cane to move around. While others make use of an electric scooter or wheel chair to help them cope with fatigue or balance difficulties.
Experts say that it is very hard to predict how the symptoms of MS will progress in an individual; this is due to the fact that the severity of the disease varies from person to person. However, most patients will undergo a certain amount of disease progression.
Multiple Sclerosis like other autoimmune diseases can be quite tricky to diagnose. This is because the symptoms could like any other illness and there is no one test that can clearly show if you have MS. The first symptoms of MS usually affect the eyes, causing blurred or double vision or red-green colour distortion. However, symptoms can also affect other parts of the body. Before making a diagnosis your doctor will rule out any other possible causes of your symptoms, and would require knowing your medical history. Then, you would be required run some tests, blood test to neurological tests. Currently, there is no cure for Multiple Sclerosis but a combination of therapies could help the patient cope with the disease. These therapies include:
PHYSICAL THERAPY: This would help with walking, strength, balance, posture, fatigue and pain. Physical exercises can include stretching and strengthening exercises as well as training to use mobility aids like canes, scooters and wheelchairs. The physical therapist can also adapt your exercises to accommodate your symptoms or flare-ups.
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY: Occupational therapy will be aimed at improving the level of independence and safety of the patient both at home and at work. The occupational therapist shows you how to make use of tools to help in daily tasks. The therapist can also recommend changes to your physical living or working space to make your tasks easier.
SPEECH THERAPY: Multiple Sclerosis can cause problems with the muscles used in speech and swallowing. A speech therapist will help the patient learn to communicate as clear as possible and also teach you how to practice safe swallowing.
Experts advise that people with multiple sclerosis follow these simple health tips as living with MS may require them to make some lifestyle changes.
Eat highly nutritious meals that are low in fat and high in fibre. A healthy diet will keep your immune system strong and give you the best chance at good health.
Continue to exercise if your doctor gives it an ‘okay’. Exercise can help you improve muscle tone, strength, balance and coordination. Stretching exercises can help with stiffness and mobility. Exercise can also help to lift your mood.
Even though it is good to get enough exercise, it is equally important to get a lot of rest. Multiple sclerosis causes a lot of fatigue, so it’s important that you pay attention to your needs. You might have to make some allowances in your work and family so you can create time for rest.
Be careful using hot tubs and saunas. Some people with MS are not bothered by heat, but too much heat can cause extreme muscle weakness, so you might want to avoid it. However, if the heat bothers you, experts advise that you find a way to cool down. A cool bath or air conditioning will help.
It is very important that you get support from family, a support group, your community, a doctor or other health practitioners. MS can be very emotionally tasking, so it’s important that you have a support group. Encouragement and reassurances from others will help you cope better with living with MS. Also, try to maintain a normal life as much as you can, by continuing to do as many of the things that you loved doing that won’t pose a risk to your health.
Researches have shown that MS affects more women than men. White (Caucasian) people are also at more risk of developing it than people of other races, but they could still develop it. MS can affect people of any age, but people between the age brackets of 20-40 years old are more at risk.
According to Global Health Statistics, the annual mortality rate per 100,000 persons in Nigeria has dropped by 53.6% since 1990, an average of 2.3% per year. This is good news but we can’t fail to close the rest of the gap.