Are you familiar with multiple sclerosis (MS)? We often hear about it in Canada, as our population is one of the most affected in the world. Approximately 55,000 to 75,000 Canadians currently suffer from MS, and an estimated three individuals are diagnosed with the disease every day.
MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. The immune system is disturbed and attacks the myelin, which is a protective covering wrapped around brain cells. To simplify, it is as if electrical wires were stripped of their insulating sleeve, thus preventing the effective transmission of electric current. People with MS experience problems with sensation, movement and concentration.
While this disease can occur at any age, it is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40. MS strikes three times more women than men, and it most often develops at a time when people are finishing their studies, launching their career or starting a family.
MS is not a fatal disease for the vast majority of affected individuals. Most MS sufferers have a normal or near-normal life expectancy, thanks to improvements in the way this disease is treated. Most people diagnosed with MS at first present with a relapsing-remitting form of the disease. Over time, 50 to 70 percent of these cases evolve to a progressive form and develop more and more disabilities. The remaining cases, however, may progress slowly and be marked by only occasional relapses, followed by periods of recovery.
While we do not yet know the exact cause of the disease, current research points to a complex interplay of environmental and possibly genetic risk factors. Several treatments for MS have appeared over the past few years, but none can cure the disease. The cure to stop the disease for good in the majority of patients is therefore still to be found.
To learn more about the disease, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada website offers a wealth of information on the subject.