Thursday, April 30, 2009

Multiple Sclerosis- Fact vs. Myth

Multiple Sclerosis is one of the most grossly misunderstood diseases, so I decided to dedicate this post debunking the myths and providing people with the facts in terms anyone can understand.

Myth: MS is a strictly neurological disease.

Fact: MS is actually an autoimmune disease with neurological effects. Essentially, in MS the person's immune system mistakens certain proteins in the myelin sheath (fatty layer covering the brain) as an invader to destroy. When the immune system attacks the myelin, it causes lesions. Because myelin is the brain's insulator, when it's worn away the brain's signals misfire causing a wide range of neurological effects. The word 'sclerosis' literally means scars. So, Multiple Sclerosis means 'many scars', which refers to the scars left on the brain from the attacks on the mylelin. Picture a lamp with a plastic coated power cord. Use your nail and wear away a part of the plastic coating, and you will expose the copper wiring. Because of the exposed wiring, your lamp malfunctions. Sometimes you turn it on and it works fine, other times you have to wiggle it around to make it turn on at all. Sometimes it'll start shorting and blink while in use. Eventually, the copper wiring because to rust from exposure, and the lamp stops working entirely. That... is MS. The copper wire is the brain, the plastic cord is the myelin sheath, and the effects on the way the lamp works (or doesn't) is the faulty signals the brain sends because of eroded myelin.

Myth: MS is a painless disease, because the brain can't feel pain.

Fact: 70% of all MS patients deal with some degree of pain in their daily lives. This can include nerve pain, pain from muscle spasms, girdle band pain (squeezing pain around the torso), and a vast array of painful skin sensations. The pain can be very mild to quite severe, occur anywhere in the body, and can vary greatly from day to day. The reason? It isn't due to bodily injury, it's because the brain is sending faulty signals due to the lesions. For example, an MS patient may feel extreme pain in the feet making it impossible to walk, yet there is nothing wrong with their feet. Unfortunately, contrary to old school myths, MS can actually be a VERY painful disease.

Myth: When a MS isn't having an attack, the disease is in 'remission' and not progressing.

Fact: MS can continue to progress even when not in an attack. This is a relatively new finding, until recently it was thought when a person wasn't in a full-blown attack, the disease laid dormant or went into remission. We now know this is not true, and that MS can be progressing even when there are no outward symptoms to show the progression. This is a key reason why taking drugs to slow the disease's progression is so important to most doctors and patients.

Myth: Only white women between the ages of 20-40 years old develop MS.

Fact: Anyone, regardless age, sex, or race, can develop MS. While white women between 20-40 years old are more likely to develop MS, the disease can and does effect anyone. The youngest person on record with diagnosis is 2 years old, and people are sometimes diagnosed well into their 80's. For reasons still not known, men actually tend to progress faster in the disease than women do.

Myth: All people who have MS will end up in a wheelchair.

Fact: Only 25% of all people with MS have to use a wheelchair or remain in bed due to inability to walk/move. Granted the longer someone lives with MS, the more likely the disease is to progress to the point that a mobility aid is needed. However, many MS patients who use scooters and wheelchairs can walk, but use aid due to weakness or for the sake of safety when gait and balance are severe issues.

Myth: MS can be cured through special diets.

Fact: There is NO cure for MS. Sorry folks, if a diet could cure MS, then you'd never see people living for decades with this horrific disease. While disease modifying drugs can slow the disease's progression, and some supplements such as Vitamin D have been show to help, as of the time I am writing this blog MS can not be cured.

So there you have it...some of the most common myths about Multiple Sclerosis debunked.

Be well all!
-Mis :)

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