Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month: The Illness with many faces.

For those that didn't know, the month of March is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Month. Our focus this month is to help raise awareness regarding MS. As of today, The National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that there are roughly 2.3 million people living with MS across the globe. With nearly 1 million people over the age of 18 living with the condition in the United States. With the condition primarily affecting more women than men. For those that watch entertainment news, they would have heard of an actress named Selma Blair who took to the media to discuss her journey with the illness and began documenting her story via Vlogs and other social media mediums. To help those newly diagnosed and help others understand the condition better. But before we delve into the symptoms and recovery process. Let's provide a general overview of What MS is.

Multiple Sclerosis is classified as an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system (CNS) (the brain and spinal cord). Your body's immune system identifies the CNS as foreign and attacks the protective lining surrounding the nerve called myelin. Once the protective layer has been damaged and the nerve fibers exposed, the inflammation irritates the fibers causing neurological symptoms. Symptoms range from headaches, loss of vision, chest tightness, burning sensations, etc...

The confusing thing about MS is that the illness presents differently for everyone giving rise to the name, "the illness with many faces". No one patient is the same.

However, many cases start with the primary symptom of optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve causing vision problems). This is usually the tell all sign that there may be a problem and you need to be seen by your provider. Once you let them know that you have double vision, blurry vision, or complete loss of vision in combination with other symptoms. They should know to send you to a Neurologist.

But what about the symptoms that don't necessarily start off with the infamous optic neuritis that many medical professionals know so well. There are many cases in which individuals have mentioned that their first symptom was difficulty walking or numbness and tingling in their hands and feet. When this occurs, we normally write it off as if maybe I hit my "funny bone" (even though there is nothing funny about hitting your ulnar nerve) or maybe I sat on my foot to long reading a nice book. Which is not too far-fetched or out of the norm, one would say, right?

Or, how about the issue of laughing and crying uncontrollably, also known as the pseudobulbar affect. In addition to having unexplained muscle movements, such as the twisting of the neck, tremors, and muscle spasms/cramping. By this time, an individual is surely thinking something is wrong. This isn't supposed to occur at all. Whatever the case may be, when a provider is confronted by a patient they won't initially think to evaluate for MS or autoimmune illnesses that cause similar symptoms. They are trained to start with the lowest possible organic/psychological cause. Which could be a myriad of things such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, dehydration, or overuse of the muscles causing fatigue. Th problem I have with this is, it's okay to start evaluating for the lowest possible cause but be honest and up front with patients to prevent frantic online searching and increasing further psychological symptoms. So, if you are reading this blog and you have some of these symptoms, don't take no for an answer. You know your body.

So, to help validate your case take the time to keep a symptom log of what you are experiencing and how long you are experiencing those symptoms. Most MS symptoms will last for approximately 24 hours to a few weeks. Once you have gathered enough evidence to present your case to your physician then the true test begins. Determining if you indeed have MS and what type of MS you may have. There are four types: 1) Clinical Isolated Syndrome (CIS) 2) Relapse-Remitting (RRMS) 3) Secondary Progressive (SPMS) and 4) Primary-Progressive (PPMS). Each with its own diagnosing criteria that Neurologists use to properly diagnose the patient and ensure you receive the appropriate treatment without harming your body if they don't need to. So, take Notes!

If you receive a diagnosis of MS or if you don't receive a diagnosis and are waiting years like many patients do. Do not be alarmed and most importantly do not panic. Surround yourself with a strong supportive network that builds your health, not tear it down. If you can avoid social media platforms that cause panic and worsen depressive symptoms. The most common trait among people that are seeking a diagnosis, is that they are lost and are looking to find a familiar path, a path of clarity. Anytime a person feels lost they will immediately try to fill that void with whatever brings them some form of joy, and most often it’s not joy they find but a dark hole. So, this month, take the time to reach out to people and provide the nurturing support that we so desperately need to survive. No one can go it alone.

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And as always, you can reach out to the OpMedHelp Team for support. We are here for you! Take care and Be Safe!