Understanding MS

  • by Rachel R.
  •   April 03, 2017

Rachel R. is a paid employee of Teva Neuroscience, Inc.

I can’t tell you how often I speak with newly diagnosed patients or their families and I hear something along the lines of, “How can I have MS? I barely even know what MS is!” I think many health care providers would agree—MS is a complex topic! While having a wide variety of resources is great, it can be difficult to get an understanding of the MS basics without getting lost in the details. I am happy to break down MS a little bit, and I hope that it makes the topic easier to understand and a little less overwhelming.

What is MS and what are the signs and symptoms?

MS is a chronic disease. With MS, your immune system becomes confused and mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissue in the central nervous system, which includes your brain and spinal cord. The NMSS states that while exact causes of MS are unknown, scientists agree that several factors are involved including genetics, gender, and the environment.

MS can be complicated to diagnose because its many symptoms imitate other diseases, and some symptoms are even “invisible.”  Since your central nervous system controls balance, muscle coordination, thinking, and other abilities, the MS symptoms that are seen are based on the location and extent of the damage. People with MS may experience any of the following at various times: numbness, depression, balance problems, stumbling, blurred vision, fatigue, bladder and bowel problems, slurred speech, dizziness, and cognitive difficulties.  In addition, some people have “invisible” symptoms, where damage is still occurring in the central nervous system even if they aren’t noticing outward symptoms.  Because the symptoms and warning signs are so varied and not specific to just MS, it is always important to talk to your health care provider anytime you experience something outside of your norm. 

Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) and relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) are considered to be relapsing forms of MS.  About 85% of people who are newly diagnosed with MS are diagnosed with RRMS, which is characterized by clearly defined attacks of new or increasing neurologic symptoms. These attacks—also called relapses or exacerbations—are followed by periods of partial or complete recovery (remissions). CIS is often an early indicator of RRMS. A person with CIS may have experienced one “attack,” or event, of MS symptoms and have signs of damage to the central nervous system that appear on an MRI. Your neurologist will determine what type of MS you have based on test results and the pattern and frequency of your symptoms.

Am I Alone?

You are absolutely not alone!  According to the NMSS, MS may affect more than 2.3 million people worldwide. All races are affected by MS, but it is more common among people of northern European ancestry. Diagnosis often occurs between the ages of 20 and 50, and women are two to three times more likely than men to have MS. The good news is that most people with MS have a normal life expectancy.

What can I do?

At this time, there is no cure for MS.  Just because there is not a way to prevent or cure MS doesn’t mean that you cannot take steps to help manage it, though! I highly encourage anyone who is affected by MS to stay in touch with their health care provider. They are your partner and an excellent resource.  Don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself, as this is a very important factor in working together with your physician to manage your MS. Come prepared to your appointments and be ready to ask any questions that you have been thinking about or that may arise during your visit.

Some people also find it helpful to connect with others who are affected by MS and there are a variety of different ways that you can go about doing this. The National MS Society is a great resource to help with finding ways to get in touch with others that have MS, such as through local support groups and/or opportunities to participate in MS related causes within your own community.  You can also check out Teva's Lift MS Facebook page for additional information about MS and support from the Lift MS community. 

I hope that I was able to break down a complex topic into smaller pieces of information that are easier to digest. It is truly my pleasure to interact with MS patients on a daily basis, and I enjoy educating others about this disease. The more we know about MS, the more we can do to support those who are affected by MS!

Rachel R.

Shared Solutions® Nurse

About The Author

Rachel R., RN, MSN, MBA, MSCN is a master’s prepared, MS Certified Nurse who works at Teva’s Shared Solutions®. She has eight years of nursing experience, with more than three of those years dedicated to working with multiple sclerosis patients.

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3 Comment(s)
  • Ketia JeanJoseph | April 07, 2017
    I need to attend the next MS educational events.
  • Barbara | April 14, 2017
    Thank you.
    Need to find local support for my Son newly diagnosed-39.
    Local support for Mother how to help him.
  • deborah | April 23, 2017
    Rachel,
    Thanks for a simple breakdown of MS! My son was diagnosed at
    age 41 almost 4 years ago,and does very well in general.He lives
    in Texas,and we are in Ma,so it is difficult not seeing him regularly,
    to be sure he seems ok! He has a high stress job in construction,so
    works long hours.He is divorced ,so lives alone with2 dogs,who keep
    him busy and cheery! He gets tired,but never complains.
    • Teva's Lift MS Team | April 24, 2017
      We are so glad you’ve chosen to share your son’s experience with us, Deborah. Please keep us posted on your son’s progress. We'll be thinking of him.