Monday, March 8, 2010

Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week 2010- The Basics

Today marks the beginning of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness week.  Every day this week, I'll writing up a new post in an effort to help bring awareness to the different aspects of MS.  For those of you stumbling onto this blog for the first time, here's a brief introduction of myself.

I am 36 year old woman living in Michigan.  I am also a wife, a mother, a daughter, and a sister.  In August of 2008, my world started turning upside down as my body was hit by a series of 'mysterious' symptoms, one after another.  In October 2008, I was heard the words from my doctor that changed my life forever: "You have MS".  MS has not only changed my life, but the lives of those who love me, in many ways.  I started this blog the day I was diagnosed as a means to keep my family and friends informed of what was going on with me.  Somewhere along the way, it's turned into a both a diary as well as source of information for others.  My only hope is that by sharing my journey, and the knowledge I pick up along the way, I can help make someone else's journey just a tiny bit more bearable.  

The most logical place to start this series of awareness week posts is with some basic information.  Multiple Sclerosis is believed to be an auto immune disease in which our immune system mistakes proteins within the myelin sheath around the brain and spinal cord as an invader to be killed, causing lesions and subsequent scarring where the attacks occur.  To better explain the role of myelin, here is a favorite analogy of mine: Picture a plastic coated power cord, now scratch off some of the plastic.  It may spark, it may work sometimes but not others, eventually once that exposed wiring rusts it stops working altogether.  Now picture that coating is the protective layer of your brain, and your brain is the copper wiring.  That is essentially what happens with Multiple Sclerosis.  

Once the myelin is worn away, the brain's signals to the body don't work correctly.  Because of this, virtually any and every part of your body could potentially be effected by the disease.  Here are a list of some of the more common symptoms of MS:

Muscle symptoms:
  • Loss of balance
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness or abnormal sensation in any area
  • Problems moving arms or legs
  • Problems walking
  • Problems with coordination and making small movements
  • Tremor in one or more arms or legs
  • Weakness in one or more arms or legs
Bowel and bladder symptoms:
  • Constipation and stool leakage
  • Difficulty beginning to urinate
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Strong urge to urinate
  • Urine leakage (incontinence)
Eye symptoms:
  • Double vision
  • Eye discomfort
  • Uncontrollable rapid eye movements
  • Vision loss (usually affects one eye at a time)
Numbness, tingling, or pain
  • Facial pain
  • Nerve pain
  • Painful muscle spasms
  • Tingling, crawling, or burning feeling in the arms and legs
Other brain and nerve symptoms:
  • Decreased attention span, poor judgment, and memory loss
  • Difficulty reasoning and solving problems
  • Depression or feelings of sadness
  • Dizziness and balance problems
  • Hearing loss
Sexual symptoms:
  • Problems with erections
  • Problems with vaginal lubrication
Speech and swallowing symptoms:
  • Slurred or difficult-to-understand speech
  • Trouble chewing and swallowing
Fatigue is a common and bothersome symptoms as MS progresses. It is often worse in the late afternoon.

 It is believed roughly 2.5 million people worldwide suffer from Multiple Sclerosis.  Some say that number could be as high as 4 million if one takes into account the misdiagnosed and undiagnosed cases.  There are approximately 400,00 diagnosed cases of MS in the United States, with an estimated 200 new cases diagnosed every week.  MS strikes women twice as often as men, though men seem to progress in the disease faster than women.  The average age of diagnosis is 30-40 years old, with symptoms starting between 20-40 years old.  Diagnosis is often delayed because of the sporadic, unpredictable nature of the disease.  Multiple Sclerosis can effect anyone, of any race, gender, or age.  

There is no cure for Multiple Sclerosis.

Those are the basics of Multiple Sclerosis, and really, only the tiniest glimpse as to what life is like living with it.  MS is a greatly misunderstood and underestimated disease, largely because so many with it "look good" but suffer greatly with largely invisible symptoms.  I'll be touching on this topic more as the week goes on.

I challenge everyone reading this to help spread awareness of Multiple Sclerosis during this week.  Why?  Because you never know when this disease may strike you or someone you love.  I know two years ago, even though I was already having symptoms of MS but didn't realize it, I'd have never thought in a million years I'd be sitting here with this disease writing this blog.  It can, and does, happen to anyone.

Until tomorrow, be well everyone. Get your orange on and spread MS awareness :)

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