International Multiple Sclerosis month: (1 – 31 May)
Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month is an effort by the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF) to raise awareness of the condition. The goals are to promote an understanding of the disease, and to assist those with MS in making educated decisions about their healthcare.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressive, degenerative condition of the central nervous system (CNS) affecting the brain, the spinal cord and the optic nerve. It is the most common disabling neurological disease among young adults and affects around 3000 to 4000 people in South Africa. MS is most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40, and women are almost twice as likely to develop it as men. MS is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the connections between the brain and the body’s nerves are damaged.
The term “multiple sclerosis” means “many scars.” This is because multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition characterized by scars or lesions in the spinal cord and the brain. Though MS has been recognized as a disease since the mid 1800’s, its cause still remains a mystery. Scientists are working with several theories about the cause of MS as their foundation for efforts toward a cure.
Scientists suspect that MS may be indirectly linked to a virus or bacteria. Up to now, no virus or bacteria has been identified, and there is no evidence that MS is contagious. However, the clear involvement of the immune system in MS indicates this path of research may be promising. MS is not directly inherited, but it is clear that genetic factors play a role in who gets the disease. In some populations such as the Eskimos, the illness is unheard of.
As well as myelin loss, there can also sometimes be damage to the actual nerve fibres. It is this nerve damage that causes the accumulation of disability that can occur over time. The underlying damage to the brain and spinal cord may become permanent, leading to physical disability or cognitive impairment (problems with memory, thinking and other mental functions). While there is no cure for MS, major strides in understanding the disease and knowing when and how to treat MS have been made over the past decade.
General Manager – I Can!