Friday, March 9, 2012

National Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month

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By Diane Forrest, RN

What does Country singer Donna Fargo, Mousekateer Annette Funacello, Actress Teri Garr, Singers Lena Horne and Alan Osmond, and Actor Richard Pryor all have in common?  They all suffer from Multiple Sclerosis.  Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It normally affects women between the ages of 20-40, however it can happen to anyone at any age.

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Multiple Sclerosis is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this nerve covering is damaged, nerve signals slow down or stop. The nerve damage is caused by inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the body's own immune cells attack the nervous system. This can occur along any area of the brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord. It is unknown what exactly causes this to happen. The most common thought is that a virus or gene defect, or both, are to blame. Environmental factors, family history or the location of where you live may play a role.  MS attacks the body at different intervals. Symptoms vary, because the location and severity of each attack can be different. Episodes can last for days, weeks, or months. These episodes alternate with periods of reduced or no symptoms.

People with MS suffer many symptoms such as:
  • Muscle weakness, tremors, difficulty moving arms and legs and painful spasms;
  • Fatigue, usually in late afternoons;
  • Double vision and hearing loss;
  • Difficulty talking and swallowing;
  • Incontinence in bowel and bladder; and
  • Depression.

To determine if you have MS, a neurological and eye exam will be performed to detect any problems, also a lumbar puncture or MRI bran scan will be used to detect any abnormalities.  There is no cure for MS; there are some treatments that will help the symptoms.  These include:
  • Medications;
  • Bowel and Bladder retraining;
  • Physical therapy, including speech therapy and occupational therapy;
  • Changing your diet to foods that are easily swallowed; and
  • Changing your home to make things safe for moving around.

Complications for MS include:
  • Frequent urinary tract infections or the necessity for indwelling catheters;
  • Depression and difficulty thinking;
  • Inability to care for yourself;
  • Acquiring bedsores; and
  • Side effects from medications.

The outlook for people with MS is good, although there is no cure; life expectancy is 20 years or more.  Most people return to normal or near-normal function between attacks. Slowly, there is greater loss of function with less improvement between attacks. Over time, many require a wheelchair to get around and have a more difficult time transferring out of the wheelchair.

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March is National Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month.  To find out more about MS, visiting this site.

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