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SHEDDING LIGHT ON INVISIBLE BATTLES: PROVIDING UNDERSTANDING & RAISING AWARENESS ABOUT MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS



As Canada observes Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month in May, it is crucial to recognize the significant impact of this disease, especially considering Canada’s high number of annual diagnoses.


In this blog post, we aim to shed light on multiple sclerosis by offering valuable insights and practical tools to enhance understanding. Additionally, we’ll discuss effective strategies for raising awareness and supporting ongoing research efforts.


 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a long-lasting condition that affects the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. It can cause problems with vision, memory, balance, and movement. MS comes and goes in episodes, with symptoms varying in severity. Sometimes, there are periods of feeling well in between.


MS happens because the body’s immune system attacks a protective covering called myelin around nerve fibers. When myelin is damaged, nerve signals can’t travel properly. This can lead to various symptoms like fatigue, coordination problems, numbness, vision issues, and mood changes. MS affects people physically, emotionally, and financially.


The exact cause of MS remains uncertain. Scientists believes it is likely a combination of factors that trigger the disease. Research suggests that certain genes, combined with environmental triggers, may lead to MS. Factors like ethnicity and location also seem to play a role.


Ongoing research focuses on several areas:


1.      Immunology: Studying how the body’s immune system is involved in MS.

2.      Epidemiology: Examining patterns of disease in large groups of people.

3.      Genetics: Understanding the role of genes in MS development.

4.      Infection Agents: Investigating viruses and other potential triggers.


Understanding the cause of MS is crucial for developing better treatments and, ultimately, finding a cure. Ideally, researchers aim to prevent MS from occurring altogether.


MS arises from an abnormal immune response causing inflammation and damage in the central nervous system. Key players in this immune response include T cells and B cells:


·        T Cells, activated in the lymph system, migrate to the central nervous system where they release chemicals, triggering inflammation and damage of myelin and nerve cells. T regulatory cells, a subtype, fail to control inflammation properly in MS.

·        B cells, activated with T cell assistance, produce antibodies and other proteins that contribute to central nervous system damage.


Ongoing research aims to uncover other involved cells and processes, to understand MS’s immune mechanisms better to develop more effective treatments and, ultimately, a cure.


Environmental factors also influence MS risk:


·        Geography: Ms is more prevalent farther from the equator, with factors like access to healthcare and migration patterns contributing.

·        Vitamin D: Low levels increase MS risk, possibly explaining geographic patterns, as sunlight boosts vitamin D production.

·        Smoking: increases MS risk and worsens disease severity: quitting may slow disease progression.

·        Obesity: Especially in childhood or early adulthood, may raise MS risk and worsen disease activity.

·        Infectious Factors: Several viruses, including Epstein-Barr virus, may increase MS risk, though MS itself is not infectious.


MS has a genetic component:


·       While MS is not directly inherited, genetic factors may contribute to risk with approximately 200 different genes implicated.

·        Twins and relatives of MS patients have a higher risk, indicating genetic influence.

Other theories, like environment, allergies, or exposure to certain chemicals have been explored but not proven. Consulting a healthcare provider can offer guidance on such concerns.


MS causes symptoms by damaging the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord called myelin, leading to inflammation and disruptions in nerve signals. These disruptions can result in a wide range of symptoms depending on which part of the central nervous system is affected.


Common symptoms include:

·        Balance and dizziness

·        Bladder dysfunction

·        Cognitive impairment, especially memory problems

·        Depression

·        Fatigue

·        Difficulty walking

·        Heat Intolerance

·        Optic Neuritis (visual blurring or loss of vision)

·        Pain

·        Paroxysmal symptoms (sudden onset of neurological symptoms)

·        Sensory impairment, numbness or tingling

·        Sexual dysfunction

·        Spasticity (muscle stiffness)

·        Tremor

·        Weakness


Less Common Symptoms include

·        Bipolar Affective Disorder (mood swings)

·        Difficulty speaking (Dysarthria)

·        Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia)

·        Dry Mouth

·        Hormonal influences on symptoms

·        Inappropriate affect (uncontrolled laughter or crying)

·        Poor Coordination


Managing these symptoms involves various approaches, including medication, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, exercise programs, and alternative treatments. Individuals with MS need to explore resources and support to help manage their symptoms effectively.


As summarized by MS Canada, despite the progress made, many questions about MS remain unanswered. Canadian researchers from diverse backgrounds are collaborating to address these questions and develop effective treatments. MS Canada supports researchers at all career stages through annual research competitions, fostering education and training for the next generation of MS experts.


In addition to research funding, MS Canada engages young researchers through education, mentorship, and networking programs, aiming to cultivate interest in MS research and foster collaboration among future MS experts. The ultimate goal of MS Canada is to invest in research that benefits individuals affected by MS, with the hope of finding a cure for this complex disease.


To guide future research efforts MS Canada conducted discussions across the country to understand the perspective of the MS community and research priorities for the next decade. These discussions brought together researchers and people affected by MS highlighting the importance of collaboration in advancing MS research.



How Can You Help?


Raising awareness about Multiple Sclerosis is crucial for educating people about the condition, supporting those affected by it, and fostering research for better treatments and a cure. Here are some effective ways to raise awareness:


·        Social Media Campaigns: Launching social media campaigns using hashtags can help reach a large audience. Share facts, personal stories, and resources to educate and engage people.

·        Events and Fundraisers: Organize events such as walks, runs, or charity galas dedicated to raising funds and awareness for MS research and support programs.

·        Educational Workshops: Host workshops or seminars in schools, workplaces, or community centers to educate people about MS its symptoms, treatments, and how they can support those living with the condition.

·        Collaborate with MS organizations: partner with established MS organizations like MS Canada to amplify your efforts and reach a wider audience.

·        Local Media Outreach: Reach out to local newspapers, radio stations, and television channels to share stories of individuals living with MS, upcoming events, and the importance of MS awareness.

·        Online Resources: Create informative content such as blog posts, videos, and infographics about MS and share them on various online platforms to reach people globally.

·        Community Engagement: Engage with local communities by participating in health fairs, hosting information booths, or speaking at community events to raise awareness about MS.

·        Advocacy and Policy: Advocate for policies that support MS research, access to healthcare, and disability rights. Engage with policymakers and raise awareness about the needs of people living with MS.

·        Personal Stories: Encourage individuals living with MS to share their stories through blogs, social media, or public speaking engagements to provide insights into living with the condition and inspire others.


By combining these strategies, you can effectively raise awareness about MS and make a positive impact on the lives of those affected by the condition.

As Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month kicks off in Canada, let’s carry forward the momentum gained in spreading knowledge and support for those affected by this condition. By continuing to raise awareness, educating ourselves, advocating for research advancements, and offering compassion to individuals and families impacted by MS, we contribute to a brighter future.

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