May is MS Awareness Month and I really first learned about multiple sclerosis because of a really close college friend Shenna, who was diagnosed in 2013. This is when I got a greater awareness about the disease. Because of Shenna, I wanted to learn everything possible about Multiple sclerosis. According to The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary Multiple sclerosis (MS) is defined as a chronic degenerative disease of the central nervous system in which gradual destruction of myelin occurs in patches throughout the brain or spinal cord or both, interfering with the nerve pathways and causing muscular weakness, loss of coordination, speech and visual disturbances. It occurs chiefly in young adults and is thought to be caused by a defect in the immune system that may be of genetic or viral origin.
Shenna stated she didn’t know of anyone with MS. It wasn’t until she was diagnosed that she was informed that celebrities Montell Williams and Tamia were both MS Warriors.
According to the National MS Society, MS isn’t necessarily hereditary. However, you have a higher chance of developing the disease if you have a close relative with MS.
MS affects about 2.5 million people worldwide and affects women twice as often as men (National MS Society, 2012).
There are Three Types of MS According to The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary
Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS)
RRMS — the most common disease course — is characterized by clearly defined attacks of worsening neurologic function. These attacks — also called relapses, flare-ups or exacerbations — are followed by partial or complete recovery periods (remissions), during which symptoms improve partially or completely and there is no apparent progression of disease. Approximately 85 percent of people with MS are initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS.
Secondary-progressive MS (SPMS)
The name for this course comes from the fact that it follows after the relapsing-remitting course. Most people who are initially diagnosed with RRMS will eventually transition to SPMS, which means that the disease will begin to progress more steadily (although not necessarily more quickly), with or without relapses.
Primary-progressive MS (PPMS)
PPMS is characterized by steadily worsening neurologic function from the beginning. Although the rate of progression may vary over time with occasional plateaus and temporary, minor improvements, there are no distinct relapses or remissions. About 10 percent of people with MS are diagnosed with PPMS.
Progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS)
PRMS — the least common of the four disease courses — is characterized by steadily progressing disease from the beginning and occasional exacerbations along the way. People with this form of MS may or may not experience some recovery following these attacks; the disease continues to progress without remissions.
(National MS Society, 2012).
Doctors divide the symptoms into three groups: primary, secondary, and tertiary.
Primary symptoms come from damage to the protective sheath around the nerves in your spine or brain. The damage causes scarring, which makes it harder for signals to travel between the brain and the body.
This process can lead to bladder or bowel problems, loss of balance, numbness, paralysis, tingling, tremors, vision problems, or weakness.
Medicine, physical therapy, and other treatments can keep many of these problems under control.
Secondary symptoms follow the main problems of MS. For instance, not being able to empty your bladder can lead to a bladder infection.
Doctors can treat secondary symptoms, but the goal is to avoid them by treating the primary symptoms.
Tertiary symptoms are the social, psychological, and job-related problems of living with MS. For instance, if MS makes it hard for you to walk or drive, you may not be able to do your job well.
These are the most common changes to the mind and body in someone with MS:
Unusual sensations: People with MS often say they feel a “pins and needles” sensation. They may also have numbness, itching, burning, stabbing, or tearing pains. About half of people with MS have these uncomfortable symptoms. Fortunately, they can be managed or treated.
Bladder problems: About 8 in 10 people have bladder problems, which can be treated. You may need to pee often, urgently, need to go at night, or have trouble emptying your bladder fully. Bowel problems, especially constipation, are also common.
Trouble walking: MS can cause muscle weakness or spasms, which make it harder to walk. Balance problems, numb feet, and fatigue can also make walking hard.
Dizziness: It’s common to feel dizzy or lightheaded. You usually won’t have vertigo, or the feeling that the room is spinning.
Fatigue: About 8 in 10 people feel very tired. It often comes on in the afternoon and causes weak muscles, slowed thinking, or sleepiness. It’s usually not related to the amount of work you do. Some people with MS say they can feel tired even after a good night’s sleep.
Muscle spasms: They usually affect the leg muscles. For about 40% of people they are an early symptom of MS. In progressive MS, muscle spasms affect about 6 in 10 people. You might feel mild stiffness or strong, painful muscle spasms.
Sexual trouble: These include vaginal dryness in women and erection problems in men. Both men and women may be less responsive to touch, have a lower sex drive, or have trouble reaching orgasm.
Speech problems: Sometimes MS can cause people to pause a long time in between words and have slurred or nasal speech. Some people also develop swallowing problems in more advanced stages of MS.
Thinking problems: About half of people with MS have trouble concentrating that comes and goes. For most, this means slowed thinking, poor attention, or fuzzy memory. Rarely, people can have severe problems that make it hard to do daily tasks. MS usually does not change your intellect and ability to read and understand conversation.
Tremors: About half of people with MS have tremors. They can be minor shakes or make it hard to do everyday activities.
Vision problems: Problems with your eyes tend to be one of the first symptoms. They usually affect only one eye and go away on their own. Your sight may be blurry, gray, or have a dark spot in the center. You may suddenly have eye pain and temporary vision loss.
Medications are used in multiple sclerosis (MS) to modify the disease course, treat relapses — also called attacks or exacerbations — and manage symptoms. Along with the other essential components of comprehensive MS care, these medications help people manage their MS and enhance their comfort and quality of life.
Medications that Modifying the Disease Course
The following U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved disease-modifying agents reduce disease activity and disease progression for many people with relapsing forms of MS, including relapsing-remitting MS, as well as secondary-progressive and progressive-relapsing MS in those people who continue to have relapses.
Avonex (interferon beta-1a)
Betaseron (interferon beta-1b)
Copaxone (glatiramer acetate)
Extavia (interferon beta-1b)
Rebif (interferon beta-1a)
Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate)
Following the treatment plan that you and your doctor have established is the best possible strategy for managing your MS, and continuing the disease-modifying medication your doctor has recommended is a key element of that plan. For help in managing the costs of these medications, read about the patient assistance programs offered by the pharmaceutical companies. (National MS Society, 2012).
Shenna believes that with God, faith, positive thinking, education, and a steadfast determination to live her life to the fullest. There will be a day that she can say that I use to have MS. I believe she has a positive outlook on the disease and the disease doesn’t have her.
The NYC MS walk in Westchester was on April 27,2014. Shenna’s team was #teamShewins. It was truly amazing to see my friend Shenna, who about 30 weeks ago was unable to walk, complete the whole 3 miles unassisted. I told her she is the true Mustard Seed faith.