March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. Unless you have had personal experience with multiple sclerosis, you may not know much about it. Often referred to as MS, multiple sclerosis can be confused with other diseases like muscular dystrophy, or MD.
Learn About Multiple Sclerosis
A simple analogy can give you a basic understanding of multiple sclerosis. If you know anything about electricity, you know that proper insulation of wires is important. MS affects the nervous system, which also runs on electrical impulses. Nerves have a coating, called myelin, that acts as insulation. MS damages the myelin and can cause the signals traveling down the nerves to "short out."
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder, which means it is caused by the body attacking itself. In the case of MS, the immune system attacks the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord. Since the central nervous system controls the whole body, damage to it can cause many different types of problems.
Common MS symptoms include muscle stiffness, numbness, and fatigue. MS can reduce mobility. Some of those with MS eventually will need mobility aids such as canes, wheelchairs, and scooters. MS often impacts vision, and it can impair bowel and bladder function and affect the libido.
The Future for Those With MS
Multiple sclerosis is considered a progressive disease, which means that it gets worse. Some of those with MS find that their condition worsens steadily. Many others have periods of worsening symptoms, known as flares, exacerbations, relapses, or attacks. After these flares, their condition may improve until the next attack.
MS is not a fatal disease, although it may shorten life by a few months or years. It is a life-changing disease for many, but others have found it possible to live a normal, active life with MS. A lifestyle that promotes general health is optimal for people with MS.
Although researchers haven't found proof that any diet helps the disease, many of those with MS say they feel better when eating a healthy, mostly plant-based diet. Both physical therapy and exercise are proven to improve the symptoms of MS. Some of those with MS may not be able to run or lift weights, but they may benefit from milder exercise, such as water exercise or gentle yoga.
How MS is Treated
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, but there are disease-modifying treatments, called DMTs. These treatments are given in pill, injection, or infusion form, and they may reduce the number and severity of attacks. They act in a variety of ways. Tecfidera, Gilenya, Ocrevus, and Copaxone are some of the most commonly prescribed DMTs.
Doctors prescribe other medicines to treat the symptoms of MS. For example, Lioresal or Gablofen may be prescribed to relax muscles. Other drugs may be given to reduce fatigue. Antidepressants such as Zoloft can help with mood disorders that often occur with MS. Other medications may be prescribed to address bowel or bladder issues or to improve sexual function.
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