What is MS?
Basically it means your wiring is stuffed. The techo thing is that the myelin sheathes that insulate the fibres of the central nervous system are damaged. This means the messages the brain sends to various parts of the body either don’t flow through correctly or go to the wrong areas. No matter how wrong those messages are, they still can’t make you touch your ear with your elbow.
Prior to diagnosis, my chiropractor in Vanuatu commented, “It looks like you’re trying to walk backwards while moving forward.” He was one of the first to suspect I needed more than a bone-cruncher. ‘Sclerosis’ comes from the Greek and means scarring (or hardening) – the ‘multiple’ bit comes in because more than one part of the brain or spinal cord could be affected and because the disease is characterised by more than one ‘attack’.
My GP, Dr Jim, explained it this way. Imagine a whole heap of batteries connected by a lead and functioning well – if you pull out a few of the batteries, you still will have a connection, but a weaker one. But totally cut the lead connecting the batteries (the spinal cord), you get nothing.
So the messages normally sent from the brain could be asking parts of the body to walk, hold a pen, read, think, see or seek a bathroom break but because the messages don’t get through properly the results can be uncomfortable, painful or embarrassing, depending.
MS is not contagious and the causes aren’t known – they could be genetic, could be environmental, could be bacterial/viral, could be an adverse autoimmune reaction, could be a bit of everything.
There is a misconception that most MS sufferers end up in a wheelchair (probably because of the high-profile athlete, Betty Cuthbert) – most don’t, some will and many, like me, use a cane to both assist mobility and give security. There are some pretty stylish ones out there, too! And dare I throw in a groaning pun – it’s just a case of ‘cane and able’. Sorry about that.
If you’d like an example of someone who gets about pretty well with MS, have a look at 2011 Australian of the Year, Simon McKeon. Simon has had MS for 10 years and he is founder and Chair for MS Research Australia. He doesn’t talk about it much as MS is not his ‘life’, just part of it. It only gets a passing mention on his humble Wikipedia story.
MS can be a bugger to diagnose – apparently I’m the wrong age and wrong gender – I’m a 56 year old male – it usually attacks people aged 20 to 50 and females at a ratio of three to one – the majority of those diagnosed are females under 40.
People with MS can expect a near-normal life span and, because you might have to live with MS for 40 years, it’s better to embrace the condition rather than hate it.
There are four types of MS:
- Relapsing-Remitting – about 85% of people are initially diagnosed with this one – and it’s the one I’ve got at present. Attacks, relapses, exacerbations (call them what you like) are followed by periods of recovery or remission during which the disease doesn’t progress.
- Primary Progressive – about 10% cop this one and it shows as a slow worsening of neurological function with no remission.
- Secondary Progressive – this is where the Relapsing-Remitting type moves on a notch and the disease starts to worsen steadily. About half the Relapsing-Remitters will move on to this.
- Progressive-Relapsing – this one is pretty rare (5%) – it’s like the primary progressive where the condition steadily worsens but also comes with attacks of worsening neurological function.
Some days I feel I am moving from type 1 to type 3, but other days everything can return to ‘normal’ (as in not needing a cane to assist getting about). Those ‘good days’ tell me that I am still type 1. This is a good thing, as the Avonex I take can only be prescribed for relapsing-remitting.
To donate to MS Research, you can call 1800 CURE MS (1800 2873 67) or just click here.