I will ride 150 miles on my bike this weekend for the WI Multiple Sclerosis Society. What I learned in PT school about multiple sclerosis, or MS, is that there are a lot of question marks. Question marks that for those afflicted with this disease can be frustrating. Multiple sclerosis is a neurologic disease of the brain and spinal cord. It damages the nerves of the brain and spinal cord and can be progressive and chronic, meaning it gets worse over time and it sticks around. It’s characterized by periods of exacerbation and periods of remission for some. For others, the disease can be a progressive, slow decline in function. Every minute, someone is newly diagnosed with this disease and their lives are changed forever. Physical therapists help clients with MS in a variety of ways, mostly to regain strength and mobility following an exacerbation or later in the disease process to help maintain independence in daily activities such as getting out of bed. As a physical therapist, it’s hard to answer questions like, “How long will it take me to walk again?” “Will I be able to walk again?” “Why am I so tired?” “When am I going to get stronger?” Because there is so much we do NOT know about MS, questions remain unanswered.
What is the cause of this disease?
- This disease presents most often in the early adult, 20-30 years old and more often in women
- Most of the people who are affected by MS live in the northern latitudes
- The disease is autoimmune, meaning the body attacks itself, however, we’re not sure exactly why.
What are the symptoms of this disease?
- Vertigo, double vision, changes in sensation, weakness, fatigue, forgetfulness, pain, sexual dysfunction, personality changes, loss of balance, incoordination, anxiety, muscle spasms, speech changes, tremors, numbness and tingling, urinary incontinence, problems swallowing or breathing
- … this is not even an exhaustive list of the symptoms of this disease
- Symptoms can be infrequent and vague in the beginning, and can be any combination of the above symptoms
What happens over the course of the disease?
- Two types of MS are characterized by periods of relapses and remissions. For some, symptoms emerge during a relapse period but once in remission, symptoms disappear completely. For others, symptoms emerge during a relapse period but once in remission, residual symptoms remain that do not get better or go away.
- Another form of MS is a steady, progressive decline in brain and spinal cord function without cycles of relapses and remissions
How is it diagnosed?
- There is no definitive test for MS. It often takes years to reach a diagnosis, during which time the patient is left to wonder why he/she is experiencing such strange symptoms. Neurologists primarily make a diagnosis by exclusion, history of symptoms, and MRI of the brain. Many times, patients are relieved to have some semblance of an explanation as to what is causing their symptoms.
We do not know how to stop MS.
- Although treatments have gotten better, there remains no cure for this disease.
I’m riding this weekend to help someone answer these questions and in gratitude that I nor any of my family have been afflicted by this disease. If you would like to help answer these questions too, you can go here to donate. To read stories about those who have this disease, you can go here.
Thanks to D Sharon Pruitt of Pink Sherbet Photography on Flickr for the picture.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society http://www.nationalmssociety.org/index.aspx
“Multiple Sclerosis” http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/DS00188