Battle Of Nerves
Susan Erasmus sheds light on multiple sclerosis Imagine experiencing a sense of numbness all day, living in a cognitive fog, or suffering from debilitating fatigue. These are all the common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), an unpredictable nervous-system disease that disrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body.
Doctors believe that MS is an autoimmune disease, which means that the myelin sheath (the protective layer around your nerve cells) is attacked by your immune system, and messages sent by your brain cannot reach their destination.
What Makes MS Different To Other Diseases, Is That It’s Not A One-Size-Fits-All Condition?
It takes on various forms in different people. Some MS sufferers are not severely affected,while others could eventually struggle with basic physical functions such as walking, standing and talking. Some sufferers may experience sudden relapses, in which their symptoms become worse, but then they recover almost entirely. But for others, these flare-ups mean a gradual worsening of their condition.
Who’s At Risk?
Women are more prone to MS, and research also indicates that it’s passed on genetically.Anyone can develop MS, but it mostly affects those who are between the ages of 20 and 40.Caucasians are more likely to get it than people of other races, and someone who already has an auto-immune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, is also slightly more at risk.
- Numbness in hands and/or feet
- Visual disturbances, which can include blurred or double vision and red/green colour distortion.
- Difficulty with balance and co-ordination, and also sometimes standing or walking. In severe cases, people with MS could even become paralysed.
- Speech and concentration problems, as well as difficulties with judgment
- Some people develop loss of bowel or bladder control.
Because no one is completely sure what causes MS, it’s difficult to make any recommendations about what you can do to prevent the disease. If you have been diagnosed with it, as with all diseases, it is important to stick to the treatment prescribed by your doctor. That said, there is no cure for MS yet, but there is medication that can help to control the symptoms and slow down the progression of the illness. Occupational therapy and physical therapy are also often part of the treatment. During flare-ups, steroids are usually given to reduce the severity of the attack.In SA, MS is a prescribed minimum benefit (PMB), which means, by law, all medical scheme members are entitled to receive provision for its diagnosis, treatment and care from their medical aid. State hospitals will also treat the condition.
- Eat a nutritious, low-fat and well-balanced diet with lots of fibre.
- Exercise will help to improve your muscle tone and strength, balance and co-ordination.
- Get enough rest, as MS can cause you to feel fatigued.
- Avoid hot baths, showers and saunas, as too much heat could lead to extreme muscle weakness.
- Get support from friends, family and health professionals and make sure you continue doing the things you enjoy. Also see if there is a sup-port group in your area that you can join.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society of South Africa has some suggestions for making your home an MS-friendly zone.
- Get remote controls to open and close doors and switch lights on and off. Make use of cordless and speaker phones and answering machines.
- Use a rubberised cloth as a place mat under your crockery to prevent it from sliding around.
- Wrap two rubber bands around a drinking glass, a centimetre or so apart. This will make it a lot easier to grasp.
- Put a bar of soap in the foot part of pantyhose and knot it around the tap. Your soap will now be easy to reach without slipping out of your hands.
- Place a metal basket in the shower to hold toiletries.
- Turntables in cupboards will make items easy to retrieve.
- Use Velcro to replace buttons or other fasteners.
- Rub the soles of new shoes with sandpaper or scrape them on uneven surfaces to prevent slipping.
- Arrange your home to suit your physical needs. Furniture placed in strategic locations can be helpful to lean on as you move from room to room.
Useful Contact Multiple Sclerosis
Society South Africa 021 948 4160
Did You Know?
The Club has medical professionals available to assist with any medical queries you may have, free of charge.
Call 0861 424 789.
Club members outside South Africa should dial +27 11 991 8330.