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Recently my husband and I had the opportunity to attend an MS educational event held in a near by city.  Since there is no support group local to us, it was literally my first time being around other MS patients in person (other than maybe in a doctor’s office?).  We estimated 150+ folks there.  We walked in, registered, and sat down at a table for a morning snack and I immediately started to cry.  My husband looked very confused and all I could say is “I am not alone.”  If I got nothing else out of that trip, it was such a relief to be in a large room with so many people who had MS and to see the various stages.  There were folks in a wheelchairs to be sure, some with canes, but many were walking around.  I didn’t see too many people my age (early 30s), but that didn’t bother me too much.

The event was sponsored by a drug company, so there was a healthy dose of infomercial-ness about it (as you would expect), but I also got quite a bit out of the speakers and the Q&A at the end of the main talk.  For those who were diagnosed long ago, these facts would have been clear or even common sense, but there were several rather enlightening things I learned that I wanted to share:

  • Although many MS patients (myself included) experience symptoms in a foot or leg, there is actually no damage to the nerves in that location.  The hands, feet, legs, etc are fine.  The damage is only occurring in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve.
  • The myelin damage (damage to the coating around the nerves) that occurs in the central nervous system slows the speed of transmission of signals.  This explains why sometimes you “tell” your body to do something and it will, but not quite when you may expect it to.
  • MS does not pre-dispose you to other illnesses (ex: sinus infections).  The disease itself is not marked by a “high” or “low” immune system, but an immune disruption
  • A relapse = longer than 24 hour acute new symptoms or worsening of existing symptoms
  • The MS popluation is generally broken down into sub types: 85% have Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS), 10% have Primary Progressive MS (PPMS), and 5% have Progressive Relapsing MS (PRMS).
  • 50% of those with RRMS used to progress to Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) without treatment
  • Relapsing Remitting MS is simply characterized by not getting worse in between relapses.  A RRMS patient may not get fully better (i.e. return to their original state), but they will develop a new baseline and will show no progress of disability until the next relapse (this was a HUGE light bulb for me as I have been waiting to return to my pre-attack state which may never happen)
  • MS affects 2.1 million people worldwide and 400,000 folks in the US
  • MS is most common in colder climates (further from the equator)
  • The risk if you have a first degree relative with MS is 1/40
  • “Invisible” MS symptoms make it hard for patients to look sick – fatigue is a good example
  • The first MS medication was introduced in 1993 (!! that is SO recent)
  • If you decrease relapses and decrease new lesions, you will decrease disability progression
  • Early treatment slows the course of MS

Hopefully there was a tidbit above that is as helpful or encouraging to other folks as it was for me.  We are attending another educational event in May and we are definitely looking forward to it!