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Celebrating MS Awareness Week and National MS Awareness Month

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
03/01/14  12:33 AM PST
Shield HealthCare Celebrates MS Awareness Month

This MS Awareness Week (March 3-9, 2014) and throughout the month of March, Shield HealthCare will be celebrating MS Awareness month by helping to raise the public’s awareness of Multiple Sclerosis.

What is National MS Education and Awareness Month™?

The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF) and other MS-affiliated groups celebrate National MS Education and Awareness Month® to help educate the public about the scope of this disease, and to assist those living with MS in making informed decisions about their healthcare.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, often disabling neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain, the spinal cord and optic nerves. MS is categorized as an autoimmune disease, which is a disease – or disorder – of the body’s immune system.

The nerve fibers of our central nervous system are insulated by a protective layer called the myelin sheath, much like the protective insulation on an extension cord. In MS, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the myelin sheath in areas of the brain, optic nerve and spinal cord. This process (demyelination) causes scarring along the affected nerves, which can disrupt nerve transmissions from the brain through the spinal cord and out to various parts of the body. The inflammation produced by MS can also damage the cells that produce myelin, so that the brain is unable to repair it.

In many cases, Multiple Sclerosis can affect vision, sensation in the limbs, coordination, movement and bladder and bowel control. There is no known cause for MS, though scientists continue to study genetics, severe infections and different environmental risk factors in the ongoing search for treatment and a cure. The course of the disease varies greatly from one person to another, making outcomes difficult to predict.

Types of Multiple Sclerosis

MS is classified into four disease courses, each of which might be mild, moderate or severe:

Relapsing-Remitting MS.  In Relapsing-Remitting MS, an individual experiences clearly defined attacks that can last anywhere from days to weeks. During the stable periods between relapses, the disease does not progress, and recovery is partial or complete.  This is the most common form of the disease when it is first diagnosed.

Secondary-Progressive MS.  In Secondary-Progressive MS, an individual transitions from relapsing-remitting MS to a more steady progression of the disease, with occasional relapses and minor remissions. The damage accumulates without recovery between attacks.

Primary-Progressive MS.  In Primary-Progressive MS, an individual experiences a steady progression of disabling attacks without any distinct relapses of remissions. Occasionally temporary, minor plateaus or improvements may be experienced.

Progressive-Relapsing MS.  In Progressive-Relapsing MS, there is a steady progression of the disease and increase in disability level from the first attack. Some individuals may experience some recovery following the attacks, however the disease progresses steadily without remissions. This is the least common of the four disease courses.

Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

In each individual, symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis vary from person to person and even day-to-day. The nature of the symptoms are determined by the location of the nerve lesions (damaged myelin). Some of the most common symptoms of MS include:

  • Numbness or tingling, particularly in the hands and feet
  • Problems with vision, including vision loss or double vision
  • Fatigue
  • Weak or stiff muscles that affect movement
  • Impaired balance and coordination
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Nerve pain
  • Difficulty speaking and/or swallowing
  • Cognitive and emotional changes

Although there is not yet a known cure for MS, most people with MS learn to cope with the disease and continue to lead productive and satisfying lives. There are treatments available that can help treat MS attacks, manage the symptoms and reduce or slow the progress of the disease. Treatment options include several FDA-approved medicines, physical and occupational therapy, and following suggested dietary guidelines. For more information about MS, including resources and support, visit the National MS Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, MayoClinic.com, National Library of Medicine, and WebMD, which provided source information for this article.  To read and share stories with other caregivers, and to explore more caregiver resources, visit the Shield HealthCare Caregivers Community.

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