The mystery of MS: Understanding multiple sclerosis

September 28, 2017
MS is a disease of the central nervous system.

Around 24,000 Australians are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the Survey of Disability, Ageing, and Carers. There’s a good chance that you know someone, or are connected to someone living with MS. What exactly is this disease and how does it affect people’s quality of life?

The brain, spinal cord and optical nerves can all be affected by MS.

What is multiple sclerosis?

MS is a disease of the central nervous system where the insulating tissue surrounding neurons, called myelin, is damaged in concentrated areas. This damage causes scars to form, which in turn interfere with nerve impulses. The scars, also called plaques or lesions, mean that the messages sent along nerves are interrupted, affecting motor skills and neurological functions.

The scarring can occur in different areas of the nervous system, resulting in a variety of possible symptoms, which are unpredictable and vary from one person to the next. Often, the brain, spinal cord and optical nerves are impacted by MS. As a result, people with this condition commonly experience a high degree of fatigue, memory and cognitive issues, chronic pain and loss of motor control.

MS is caused by scarring, which distorts and interrupts the messages your body sends through nerves.

MS is generally diagnosed in early adulthood, between the ages of 20 and 50. However, it can still affect people of any age and people both older and younger have been diagnosed with the condition. In fact, it is the most common chronic central nervous system disease among young Australians, the Better Health Channel reports.

Approximately 70 per cent of people with MS are female.

This is a common disease. More than 23,700 Australians and two million people worldwide have been diagnosed with MS, according to MS Australia. More women than men are affected by the disease – approximately 70 per cent of people with MS are female.

How does multiple sclerosis affect people?

MS affects everyone differently, with the progression and severity of symptoms depending on the specific damage to the nervous system. However, the disease can be broadly categorised into one of three patterns, which describe the disease progression over time.

  1. Relapsing-remitting (RRMS)
    Accounting for around 85 per cent of cases, people with RRMS experience a fluctuation in symptoms. Episodes of acute neurological symptoms can be followed by intervals where they are partially resolved. Periods where symptoms change or emerge as the immune system attacks myelin are known as relapses and remission occurs where symptoms improve.
  2. Secondary progressive (SPMS)
    If, over time, people with RRMS experience fewer relapses, their disease may be categorised as SPMS. While people with SPMS may still experience relapses, the pattern of symptoms will be more constant and get steadily worse over time. More than half of people with RRMS develop SPMS within 10 years of their first symptoms, MS Australia reports.
  3. Primary progressive (PPMS)
    If someone with MS does not experience clearly defined relapses, but rather a gradual onset of symptoms, their disease will usually be described as PPMS. They will typically experience a constant pattern of symptoms, perhaps with periods of stability or improvement. As with all MS, this progression can be gradual or rapid. About 10 per cent of people with MS experience PPMS.
While MS affects everyone differently, it can be broadly categorised into three main types which describe the progression of the disease.

Treatment for multiple sclerosis

The cause of MS is unknown and there is currently no cure. However, treatment is available, which allows individuals to manage some of their symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Medications for MS assist in managing certain symptoms and shortening attacks. Advice and assistance from a range of healthcare professionals ensures a comprehensive approach to the disease and better management of symptoms.

Along with care from health professionals, family, friends and colleagues all play an important role in ensuring that people with MS feel accepted and supported in all areas of their life. Support services and resources are also available through your local MS society.

Support from family and friends helps people with MS to lead a normal and healthy life. Support from family and friends helps people with MS to lead a normal and healthy life.

Living with multiple sclerosis

MS doesn’t have to ruina person’s way of life. With a tailored treatment plan, support and care from friends and family, people with MS can maintain long, active and healthy lives. While predicting the course MS will take, most people can expect to live for 95 per cent of the normal life expectancy, MS Australia says.

Here at Tunstall, we are dedicated to finding the right solution for any individual. Through our connected care we provide a range of assistive technology to people with uniquely different needs and can design a personally tailored care solution for you, or a loved one – just give us a call on 1800 603 377.

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