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Of the 2.1 million individuals affected with multiple sclerosis (MS) worldwide, more than 400,000 are American, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Women are two to three times more likely than men to be diagnosed with the disease, which typically strikes between the ages of 20 and 50. And, it remains a mystery of modern medicine.
What is known about MS is that it is a “disorder of the central nervous system that affects the brain, spinal cord and cranial nerves,” explains William J. Au, MD, director of Adult Neurology at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute, which serves the Sacramento Sierra region.
Relapsing remitting MS is the most common form of the disease, representing roughly 80 percent of all MS cases; symptoms appear over a matter of days, last for weeks or a few months and then improve, even to the point of resolving completely. Secondary progressive MS and primary progressive MS represent the condition’s lesser common forms.
Disturbances of vision, speech and urinary bladder function, as well as loss of limb coordination, sensation, and cognitive impairment are all common effects of MS. Although the cause of MS has yet to be discovered, genetic factors are thought to play a predisposition role, as do low levels of vitamin D, smoking and viral infections.
“A great deal is being learned about the ways in which the immune system and the nervous system misbehave to result in multiple sclerosis,” says John Schafer, MD, FAAN (Fellow American Academy of Neurology), and director of the Mercy MS Center, who further explains that these discoveries have allowed physicians to better control the effects of the disorder.
Marshall Medical Center Neurologist Dr. Rajiv Pathak says, “Treatment of MS has changed significantly in the last 20 years. We now have many choices for treatment, and many new medicines that can actually change the disease process. Consequently, we now think of MS as an inflammatory disease; patients can experience much less disability as compared to before the decade’s advancements.”
According to physicians, the following inroads can be instrumental not only in controlling MS, but also providing exemplary care and cutting-edge medicine to those afflicted with it:
ADVOCACY. Organizations such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society provide resources to patients in need of support.
COMPASSIONATE COVERAGE. Most drug companies offer compassionate programs to help those without means to purchase MS medications.
INTERVENTION. “We discovered that the sooner we start treatment of MS, the better the prognosis,” says Dr. Au.
MEDICAL ADVANCEMENTS. “Many medications can help treat symptoms of MS, such as fatigue, bladder dysfunction, muscle spasms, weakness, depression, etc., so not having a cure does not mean not having treatment,” notes Dr. Au. “We now have the first oral MS drug and more are on the way.”
RESOURCES. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers help and support to not only those afflicted with MS, but also their caregivers. Locally, clinics such as the Mercy MS Center and the Sutter Neuroscience Institute play an important role in accurately diagnosing MS, recommending optimal treatment and providing support.
SUPPORT. Peer groups for those affected by MS are available throughout the greater Sacramento area. In Placerville, Marshall Medical offers a support group that meets monthly, and is sponsored by Mt. Valley Chapter of the MS Society. visit marshallmedical.org and click on “Health Links.”.
THERAPY. Local water aerobics classes offered at community colleges, the YMCA or through Easter Seals are great physical therapy resources. Yoga and Tai Chi also help.
For details about Sutter Neuroscience Institute and/or Mercy MS Center, visit checksutterfirst.org and mercysacramento.com. For Marshall Medical Center’s in-patient care services and/or support group details, visit marshallmedical.org and click on “Health Links.”