According to the Greater Washington Chapter of the National MS Society, the Pacific Northwest has one of the highest incidence rates of Multiple Sclerosis in the world. No one knows exactly what causes Multiple Sclerosis, or why it’s so prevalent in our part of the world. MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease which is not contagious, not directly inherited, and at least for now, not curable.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes multiple sclerosis as a nervous system disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It damages the myelin sheath, the material that surrounds and protects nerve cells. This damage slows down or blocks messages between the brain and the body, leading to the symptoms of MS. These can include vision problems, muscle weakness, trouble with coordination and balance, sensations such as numbness or "pins and needles" and memory problems.
During an MS attack, inflammation occurs in areas of the central nervous system in random patches called plaques. This process is followed by destruction of myelin, the fatty covering that insulates nerve cell fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Myelin facilitates the smooth, high-speed transmission of electrochemical messages between the brain, the spinal cord, and the rest of the body; when it is damaged, neurological transmission of messages may be slowed or blocked completely, leading to diminished or lost function. The name "multiple sclerosis" signifies both the number (multiple) and condition (sclerosis, from the Greek term for scarring or hardening) of the demyelinated areas in the central nervous system.
No one knows what causes MS, but it is thought to be an autoimmune disease. Multiple sclerosis affects woman more than men, and often begins between the ages of 20 and 40. Usually, the disease is mild, but some people lose the ability to write, speak or walk. There is no cure for MS, but medicines and treatments may slow it down and help control symptoms. I know from personal experience that one of the most important things is a support group, friends and caregivers who can help with the daily tasks and also provide emotional support and love.
More information is available online at MedlinePlus - or check out the following titles from the Sno-Isle Libraries collection:
Living well : 21 days to transform your life, supercharge your health, and feel spectacular by Montel Williams with William Doyle. New American Library, 2008.
Multiple sclerosis : new hope and practical advice for people with MS and their families by Louis J. Rosner and Shelley Ross. Rev. and updated ed. Simon & Schuster, 2008.
Managing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis by Randall T. Schapiro. 5th ed. Demos Medical Pub., 2007.
I've heard the vultures singing : field notes on poetry, illness, and nature by Lucia Perillo.
Trinity University Press, 2007.