May is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Month in Canada

This article was published in The West End Times June 11, 2011.

I know I am late for the month of May and awareness but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about Multiple Sclerosis.

Diagnosing multiple sclerosis (MS) is known to be difficult. There are so many vague symptoms and often people, once diagnosed, are told they probably have been living with MS for years. Tests for MS provide clues rather than answers. Many finally diagnosed with MS have been seen by neurologists, psychiatrist’s allergy specialists, psychologists and the list goes on.

More than 50,000 Canadians have Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is the most common neurological disease among young Canadians.
Canadians have one of the highest rates of MS in the world.
Women are twice as likely to develop MS as men (MS Society of Canada).
The cause of multiple sclerosis is still not known. For reasons not yet understood, the fatty substance called myelin (which covers nerve fibers) is damaged in random areas. The areas of damage are known as plaques. Myelin normally insulates entire nerve fibers. It helps nerve messages to be quickly and properly conducted to and from the brain. The symptoms of multiple sclerosis depend on where these plaques occur in the central nervous system. This explains why the symptoms vary so much, making the diagnosis difficult.

It is currently believed that the loss of myelin is caused by an autoimmune process. The body mistakenly reacts to some part of itself as if it is a foreign invader and attacks it. In the case of multiple sclerosis, the body destroys areas of its own myelin.

There is also increasing scientific evidence that suggests genetics may play a role in determining a person’s susceptibility to multiple sclerosis. Native Indians of North and South America, the Japanese, and other Asian populations have low incidence rates. It is unclear whether this is due mostly to genetic or environmental factors.

In the population at large, the chance of developing multiple sclerosis is less than a tenth of 1 percent. However, if one person in a family has multiple sclerosis, that person’s first-degree relatives — parents, children, and siblings — have a 1 to 3 percent chance of getting the disease.

Though the numbers seem small, the shock and pain of being one of those inflicted with the disease cannot be denied. As with many debilitating diseases, the uncertainty about “what next?” makes day to day life scary. Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis is often a long drawn out process taking place over years. At times a diagnosis may be welcome… At least you know what you are dealing with and you are not CRAZY! Now you can start dealing with your own story and journey of living with Multiple Sclerosis. As the symptoms vary, so do the ways people cope with the disease. We receive many calls for home care as certain tasks become difficult and family members need help to support their loved ones. Asking for help is a good step although not always easy when you are used to doing things for yourself. Recent new treatment plans have raised a lot of controversy…. Easy to judge when it is not you or your family member looking for hope. As always, I believe that having support and access to health care professionals is crucial so that families are not isolated, alone and afraid for their future. Is there a way we can improve the access, increase the support, be there when the going gets tough? I think so. What if there was a “hot line” for questions, what if questions can be answered using video conference or even SKYPE contact with nurses? What if families could have access to this support? What if…. What if…. This too can be a reality using what is already available…Technology.