Managing Multiple Sclerosis

by Tshepy Matloga-Malope
the journey of those living with multiple sclerosis, emphasizing the importance of proactive treatment, lifestyle adjustments, and emotional support in managing the disease
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, unpredictable autoimmune disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord (Central Nervous System), affecting the communication between the brain and other parts of the body. This often leads to a wide range of symptoms, varying significantly from person to person. By Tshepy Matloga-Malope.

According to Multiple Sclerosis South Africa “Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most common diseases of the central nervous system. Today over 2,500,000 people around the world have MS”.

While the exact cause remains unknown, numerous contributing factors are being explored, including genetics, environmental triggers, and even the intricate relationship between stress and the immune system.

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Beyond the autoimmune label

While an autoimmune component is evident in MS (where the body’s immune system mistakenly targets healthy tissues in the CNS), it’s crucial to understand that this label doesn’t paint the whole picture. Dr. Gabor Maté, a renowned physician and trauma specialist, emphasises the potential role of chronic stress and early-life trauma in influencing the development and progression of MS. He suggests that these experiences can dysregulate the nervous system, potentially making it more susceptible to autoimmune reactions.

“The experience of stress, particularly chronic stress, has a profound impact on the nervous system and the immune system. This can contribute to a cascade of physiological changes that increase vulnerability to various diseases, including autoimmune diseases like MS,” states Maté.

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While Dr. Maté’s insights offer an intriguing perspective, it’s important to acknowledge that the cause of MS remains multifaceted and complex. Further research is still being conducted to find the precise influence of stress and trauma in this context.

Recognising the signs

Symptoms of MS are diverse and can manifest differently in everyone. Early detection and diagnosis are crucial for timely intervention and optimal management. Some common signs include:

  • Fatigue: persistent and unexplained fatigue is a hallmark symptom of MS.
  • Vision problems: Blurred vision, double vision, or pain with eye movement can occur.
  • Muscular weakness: Weakness or clumsiness in one or more limbs is a frequent experience.
  • Sensory changes: Tingling, numbness, or burning sensations are common, primarily in the extremities.
  • Balance and coordination problems: Difficulty walking, maintaining balance, or performing fine motor tasks may be observed.
  • Cognitive changes: Memory problems, difficulty concentrating, or slow thinking can occur.

It’s important to highlight that while MS is diagnosed more frequently in women than men, it can affect people of all genders. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and diagnosis.

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“The experience of stress, particularly chronic stress, has a profound impact on the nervous system and the immune system.”

the journey of managing multiple sclerosis, where individuals find strength and support in their pursuit of wellness. The image portrays the challenges and triumphs of living with multiple sclerosis, highlighting the importance of personalized treatment plans, self-care practices, and a supportive community in managing the condition

Seeking medical guidance

The management of MS requires a multidisciplinary approach involving medical professionals, therapists, and potentially supportive groups. While there is no cure for MS, various treatment options aim to manage symptoms, prevent flare-ups, and slow disease progression. Non Helena Smit, Director of Multiple Sclerosis South Africa, affirms the importance of individualised treatment plans.

Some of the most effective MS treatment options available are:
  1. Disease-modifying therapies (DMTs): These medications can help reduce the frequency and severity of MS relapses, slow disease progression, and decrease the formation of new lesions in the brain and spinal cord. Some examples of DMTs include interferon beta medications, glatiramer acetate, dimethyl fumarate, fingolimod, natalizumab, and ocrelizumab. The brand names of these to be discussed in consultation with your neurologist when choosing a treatment that is perfect for you. 
  2. Symptom management medications: Various medications can help manage specific symptoms of MS, such as muscle spasms, (e.g., baclofen, tizanidine), fatigue (e.g., amantadine, modafinil), bladder dysfunction (e.g., oxybutynin, tolterodine), and depression or anxiety (e.g., selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants).
  3. Corticosteroids: In cases of MS relapses (also known as exacerbations or attacks), short courses of high-dose corticosteroids such as methylprednisolone or prednisone may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and speed up recovery.

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  1. Physical therapy and rehabilitation: Physical therapy can help improve strength, balance, coordination, and mobility in individuals with MS. Occupational therapy and speech therapy may also be beneficial for addressing specific functional impairments. 
  2. Lifestyle changes: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, stress management techniques, and avoiding smoking, can help manage MS symptoms and overall well-being.
  3. Emerging treatments: Researchers are continually investigating new treatment options for MS, including novel disease-modifying therapies, stem cell transplantation, and immune-modulating treatments.

While MS presents challenges, living a fulfilling life is possible with proactive management and a positive outlook. Joining support groups, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and prioritising self-care can significantly improve well-being. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. With the right support and resources, you can navigate the maze of MS and live a vibrant life on your own terms.

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