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Wellness Words: Learn more about MS during Awareness Month

March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month.  According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2.3 million people have a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, also known as MS — a disease that effects the central nervous system.

The central nervous system, or CNS, is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. When damage occurs in the CNS, it interferes with the transmission of nerve signals and can cause symptoms like numbness and tingling, blurred vision, double vision, weakness, poor coordination, imbalance, pain, depression, fatigue and problems with memory and concentration.

MS is a difficult disease to diagnose because the symptoms can be vague, they differ from person to person, and there is no single lab test to confirm the disease. Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, and spinal fluid analysis are helpful in diagnosing.

Most often people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 but it can occur in any age group. Women are two to three times more likely to have MS than men.

There is no evidence that MS is directly inherited but there are genetic factors that increase the risk of developing MS, and there are environmental factors such as low vitamin D and cigarette smoking that increase a person’s risk.

There are four different courses that MS can take:

1. Clinically Isolated Syndrome — The first episode of neurologic symptoms caused by inflammation and demyelination in the central nervous system.

2. Relapsing-Remitting MS — Characterized by periods of relapses also called attacks or exacerbations that subside, a person may return to their previous state or they may have disease progression after.

3. Secondary Progressive MS — Occurs after the relapsing-remitting and is usually more progressive.

4. Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis — A gradual but steady progression of disability from the onset of symptoms, with few or no relapses or remissions or new MRI activity.

Although there is no cure for there are now medications that help to change the course of the disease and limit new areas of damage in the CNS in certain courses. These drugs are called “disease-modifying” drugs and they can help reduce the frequency and severity of MS attacks, the number of new lesions in the CNS, and they may slow the progression of disability. If you have MS, talk to your health care provider to see if there is a drug that could benefit you.

The majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled. Two-thirds remain able to walk, though many will need an aid, such as a cane or crutches. Some people will use a scooter or wheelchair because of fatigue, weakness, and balance problems or to conserve energy.

Things to remember if you or a loved one has MS is that everyone is different. Some people may be able to do more than others before they need to take a rest break. It is important that people with MS listen to their bodies, pace themselves, and be aware of what triggers them. Over all, anyone and everyone can benefit from a healthy diet and exercise, by managing stress and utilizing positive coping mechanisms, and keeping your mind organized and stimulated.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has MS Navigators available to help anyone with MS identify solutions and provide access to resources by calling 1-800-344-4867 for assistance.

For more information, talk to a healthcare provider or contact HealthLink Littauer at (518)736-1120 or e-mail Healthlink Littauer at healthlink@nlh.org. Visits can also be made to the wellness center located in 2 Colonial Court in downtown Johnstown.

“We’re your community health and wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home.”

Tammy Merendo, R.N. B.S.N., is the Director of Community Education at HealthLink Littauer.

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