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This month, and always, be aware of the signs of MS
Living Well
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Every month brings about a new list of awareness’s. February was Heart Disease Awareness, Prenatal Infection Prevention Awareness and National Cancer Prevention Awareness, just to name a few.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness, Brain Injury Awareness, multiple sclerosis and the list goes on. But of course I have to mention that it’s also National Nutrition Month.

The point to having a month designated to the awareness of a particular disease or cause is to make people aware of it and hopefully bring information to prevent, treat or seek care for it. Today I would like to take a closer look at the awareness of multiple sclerosis because this disease is frustrating to understand and there is no cure.

The Mayo Clinic defines multiple sclerosis (MS) as a potentially debilitating disease in which your body’s immune system eats away at the protective sheath (myelin) that covers your nerves. Damage to myelin causes interference in the communication between your brain, spinal cord and other areas of your body. This condition may result in deterioration of the nerves themselves, a process that’s not reversible.

It is frustrating to doctors and those with it because they’re not exactly sure what causes MS. Research has shown that genetics, an individual’s environment and possibly even a virus may play a role. MS is a disease of temperate climates. In both hemispheres, its prevalence increases with distance from the equator. In the U.S. the disease is higher in whites than any other racial group.

Genetically, researchers believe that it may be inherited and that there is more than one gene that makes a person more likely to get MS. Siblings of an affected person have a 2 percent-5 percent risk of developing MS.

Viruses that have been suggested to be the cause of MS include: Epstein-Barr (mononucleosis); varicella zoster; and the hepatitis virus but to date, however, this belief has not been proven.

Symptoms of MS vary widely, depending on the amount of damage and the nerves that are affected. People with severe cases of multiple sclerosis may lose the ability to walk or speak clearly. Symptoms also depend on the location of affected nerve fibers and include: numbness or weakness in one or more limbs; partial or complete loss of central vision, usually in one eye often with pain during eye movement (optic neuritis); double vision or blurring of vision; tingling or pain in parts of your body; electric-shock sensations that occur with certain head movements; tremor; lack of coordination or unsteady gait; slurred speech; fatigue; and dizziness.

Those with MS are also sensitive to heat. Small increases in body temperature can trigger or worsen multiple sclerosis symptoms. Multiple sclerosis can be difficult to diagnose early in the course of the disease because symptoms often come and go, sometimes disappearing for months.

Like I said earlier, there is no cure for MS so treatment usually focuses on strategies to treat MS attacks, manage symptoms and reduce the progress of the disease. Some people have such mild symptoms that no treatment is necessary. Strategies to treat and attack MS include corticosteroids, which are mainly used to reduce the inflammation that spikes during a relapse. Plasma exchange (plasmapheresis), is a procedure that removes some blood from your body and mechanically separates your blood cells from your plasma, the liquid part of your blood. Doctors then mix your blood cells with a replacement solution and return the blood to your body. This procedure is usually used for people who aren’t responding to intravenous steroids.

Other treatments are beta interferons, glatiramer acetate (Copaxone), Fingolimod (Gilenya), Natalizumab (Tysabri), Mitoxantrone and Teriflunomide (Aubagio) — drugs used to slow the process of MS.
Strategies to treat to treat the symptoms of MS include: physical therapy with stretching and strengthening exercises; muscle relaxants; and medications to reduce fatigue.

Your physical health affects your mental health and therefore the Mayo Clinic recommends maintaining normal daily activities as best as you can, stay connected to family and friends and continue to pursue enjoyable hobbies.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the mentioned above signs or symptoms please contact your health care provider immediately.

Ward is a personal fitness trainer and nutrition counselor in Richmond Hill. She can be reached at 478-542-0454.

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