March is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Education and Awareness Month. MS has been in the recent news with actress Selma Blair opening up about her struggles with MS, including the challenge of getting an accurate diagnosis, and appearing in public at the 2019 Academy Awards (Oscars). However, Selma Blair is hardly the first celebrity to be afflicted with MS. Other notable celebrities such as Montel Williams, Jack Osbourne, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Trevor Bayne, and Ann Romney among others are living with a MS diagnosis.
MS is an unpredictable immune-mediated disease in which the body’s immune system has an abnormal response against the central nervous system (i.e., brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord). In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers, as well as the fibers themselves, and the specialized cells that make myelin. When myelin or nerve fibers are damaged or destroyed, messages within the central nervous system are altered or stopped completely resulting in a variety of neurological symptoms that vary among people with MS in type and severity.
Areas of inflammation and damage (i.e., lesions) result in MS symptoms. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society provides an article of common, less common, and additional secondary/tertiary symptoms. Common MS symptoms may include anxiety, balance and mobility issues, bladder or bowel problems, cognitive changes, fatigue, numbness, pain, and speech difficulties among others. As mentioned, MS affects each person differently and is categorized into different types depending on severity and length of symptom periods. The most common type is relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) and approximately 80 to 85 percent of MS patients are initially diagnosed with this form of the disease. An individual may experience symptom “flare-ups” known was relapses, exacerbations, or attacks, which can include new symptoms or an increase in existing symptoms. These relapses may persist for a short period of time (a few days to a few months) and then recede to remain symptom-free for extended periods of time (months or years).
Over time, RRMS can progress to secondary-progressive MS (SPMS) characterized by a slow, steady progression with or without relapses, and should relapses occur they usually do not fully remit. A third and less common type of MS is primary-progressive MS (PPMS) characterized by worsening neurological function accumulating into disability from the onset of symptoms, without early relapses or remissions. Approximately 15 percent of people with MS are diagnosed with PPMS.
The causes of MS are still unknown and progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS in anyone individual cannot be predicted. There is no cure for MS; however, it can be managed through comprehensive care, medications, rehabilitation such as physical and occupational therapy, and complementary and alternative medicines. Learn more about MS treatment including finding healthcare providers at https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Treating-MS.