Older gentleman in a wheelchair

March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month

Multiple sclerosis, also known as MS, may barely cross your mind unless it affects you or someone you love. As a result, few people understand what multiple sclerosis is and why this neurological condition can be debilitating. Commonly called MS, multiple sclerosis is more common than you think. It’s important to understand what is multiple sclerosis because while it affects each person differently, it can have a major effect on a person’s quality of life. MS is top of mind during the month of March, which is recognized as Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. Take this time to learn about multiple sclerosis, its prevalence, the types, risk factors, multiple sclerosis symptoms, and most effective multiple sclerosis treatment options. Then, consider sharing this vital information with everyone in your life because multiple sclerosis may one day influence theirs.

Attacking multiple sclerosis head-on

So, what is multiple sclerosis? It’s a disabling disease of the central nervous system that interferes with communication between your brain and your body. It’s thought to be an autoimmune disease which is a disorder where your body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells. This leads to chronic inflammation that damages your body. In multiple sclerosis, chronic inflammation accumulates in the central nervous system, which includes your brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. This causes damage to the protective layer surrounding your body’s nerve fibers, known as myelin, and disrupts the signals sent from your brain to the rest of your body. For people with multiple sclerosis, chronic inflammation can lead to symptoms that affect your brain, your balance, your vision, and your overall sense of well-being. Today, nearly one million people are living with multiple sclerosis in the United States alone.

Multiple types of MS

While no two people with MS have exactly the same symptoms or experience, many share several similarities and paths of progression. As a result, multiple sclerosis has been divided into four types based on the frequency and development of multiple sclerosis symptoms. The four types of MS include:

  1. Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) – This is the first time that someone experiences symptoms of MS, but having CIS doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will develop multiple sclerosis.
  2. Relapsing remitting MS (RRMS) – As the most common form of multiple sclerosis affecting approximately 85% of sufferers, people with RRMS experience flare-ups of new or worsening symptoms that can last for several days, followed by periods of remission as symptoms subside.
  3. Secondary progressive MS (SPMS) – In many cases, people with RRMS eventually develop SPMS. With this type of MS, nerve damage starts to accumulate, which causes symptoms to worsen over time.
  4. Primary progressive MS (PPMS) – With this type of multiple sclerosis diagnosis, people have ongoing symptoms that slowly worsen without experiencing any periods of remission.

Understanding your risk

No one is immune from multiple sclerosis. While the cause of this autoimmune condition remains unknown, there are several known factors that may increase your risk, such as:

  • Age – MS can appear at any age, but most people who receive a multiple sclerosis diagnosis are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.
  • Gender – The disease is more common in women than in men.
  • Family history – Having a relative with multiple sclerosis can increase your risk.
  • Exposure to viruses – People who have had viruses like Epstein-Barr may be more likely to develop MS.
  • Environmental factors – Living in places that get less sun can lead to low levels of vitamin D, which can increase your risk of developing MS.
  • Smoking – People who smoke, as well as those frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, tend to have a higher risk of MS and a more severe course of disease.

Multiple sclerosis symptoms to keep in mind

Multiple sclerosis is different for every person and its symptoms are just as unpredictable. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, lasting for just a moment, or becoming a way of life. If you experience any symptoms of MS, call or visit your SignatureMD-affiliated doctor as soon as possible. The most common multiple sclerosis symptoms include:

  • Numbness or tingling, especially in the arms, face, or body
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Muscle spasms
  • Lack of balance
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty walking
  • Blurry vision
  • Speech problems
  • Mood changes
  • Depression

A thoughtful look at multiple sclerosis treatment

There isn’t one single test for diagnosing multiple sclerosis. Instead, doctors rely on a series of strategies, including your medical history, a physical examination, a blood test, an MRI, a spinal tap, and possibly an evoked potentials test, which measures how your nervous system responds to stimulation. While there’s no cure for multiple sclerosis, there are plenty of multiple sclerosis treatment options that focus on managing the symptoms, slowing its progression, and maintaining your quality of life. Your doctor could consider developing a multiple sclerosis treatment plan that may include the following:

  • Disease-modifying therapies
  • Oral medications
  • Injectable therapies
  • Infusion treatments
  • Relapse management medication
  • Physical, speech, and cognitive rehabilitation therapy

Multiple opportunities to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis

During Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, educating yourself and others about multiple sclerosis is just the beginning of the ways to build awareness for the disease. Throughout the month of March, everyone is encouraged to take part in MS fundraising walks and educational events. Other ways to participate include making a donation and spreading the word on social media, all in an effort to make a difference in the lives of people who are trying to make the best of their own.