MS: Learn About Multiple Sclerosis

If you don't have or know someone who suffers from multiple sclerosis you may know little about the this chronic and unpredictable disease. Multiple sclerosis affects about 400,000 people a year in the United States and approximately 2.5 million people worldwide. Women make up two thirds of the people who suffer from MS.

What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
MS is an unpredictable autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack the body's myelin, a fatty substance that insulates the central nervous system.

Your CNS includes the spinal cord, optic nerve, and the brain. The brain sends messages to your body via the CNS. The CNS is insulated with a myelin sheath, a fatty substance that works to speed the transmission of messages.

In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath, producing scars known as sclerosis in multiple locations in the CNS. These scars often delay or block the messages that are sent by brain. So, while walking, a person with MS may stumble or experience difficulty moving her or his legs.

Who gets MS?
Each year tens of thousands of people, often between the ages of 20 and 50 years, are diagnosed with MS. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society anyone can develop MS because of the disease's unpredictable nature.

Recent medical research on MS suggests that certain genetic and environmental factors may increase your risk of MS. These factors include:

  • being a woman
  • having a family history of MS
  • living in a cold climate

In fact, the MS Society notes that Canadians, particularly of European descent, have one of the highest incidences of MS in the world.

What are the Symptoms of MS?
MS manifests itself in many symptoms that range in severity, depending on the type of MS. The common symptoms of MS, apart from experiencing difficulty walking, include:

  • fatigue
  • bladder and/ bowel dysfunction
  • vision problems
  • sexual dysfunctions
  • cognitive problems (e.g. memory loss and difficulty solving problems)

Treatments for MS
The treatment for MS is limited to a few medical drugs that work to reduce the symptoms of MS. The effectiveness of the drugs varies depending on the type or stage of MS. Three types or stages of MS exist, including:

  • Relapsing Remitting MS: Patients experience relapses (attacks of symptoms) followed by remission (period of time with no symptoms)

  • Primary Progressive MS: Patients gradually experience more symptoms and fewer remissions

  • Secondary Progressive MS: Patient experience a worsening of symptoms with no period of remission

Approximately 80 to 85% of people will start with Relapsing Remitting MS. But, within ten years, about 50% of those people will develop Secondary Progressive MS - the most severe type of MS.

Fitness and MS
Fitness and healthy eating are essential in leading a healthy lifestyle even with MS. So, don't let your MS symptoms control your body. Take charge. Modify regular exercise routines to fit your needs and energy level. Low-impact activities like walking and stretching can alleviate some of the early symptoms of MS by strengthening your limbs, improving your flexibility, lightening your mood.

In addition, remember to exercise your mind, by completing word searches and reading newspapers, to help with the cognitive difficulties you may experience with MS.

Apart from exercising, eating healthy may also help you cope with symptoms of MS. Some benefits of a balanced diet include improved bodily functions and a higher level of energy.

Visit our Fitness and Diet sections for advice and tips on how to lead a healthy lifestyle.

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