Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a ‘silent disease’ that can cut short the life ambitions of young, economically-active people, but with early diagnosis a better access to treatment can be offered to better the quality of life.
According to Zululand Observer, World Brain Day has selected this year’s theme to be ‘Stop Multiple Sclerosis’.
The aim is to raise awareness of the debilitating neurological disease that impacts every aspect of a person’s life, with effects ranging from cognitive impairment to severe physical disability.
MS is an immune-mediated disease, one of the most common diseases of the brain and spinal cord, which affects more than 2.8 million people of all ages around the world.
Although the prevalence of MS in South Africa has not been sufficiently researched, the MS World Atlas 2020 estimates it at 8 per 100 000 people.
Research has shown that MS afflicts predominantly the young, with 32 the average age of diagnosis globally.
It is the most important cause of neurological disability in people under the age of 60.
What is multiple sclerosis?
It is characterised by inflammation and damage to myelin, the coating that insulates and protects the nerves.
MS inflammation involves the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
This inflammation typically results in episodes of neurological disability, including visual loss, loss of co-ordination, walking impairment, weakness or paralysis of a limb, loss of sensation, loss of control of the bladder and also impairment of mental functions.
Cognitive or mental impairment includes difficulties in thinking, concentration and memory.
The inflammation may also be mild but ongoing, resulting in mild unrecognised relapses, or silent gradual deterioration.
MS also includes an assortment of invisible symptoms including fatigue, pain, cognitive and emotional issues.
The precise trigger of inflammation is unknown, although research clearly implicates abnormal behavior of B-lymphocytes.
Epstein Barr Virus is strongly suspected to trigger the MS immune cascade, especially if contracted after childhood.
What can we do?
Twenty-five years ago, there was no treatment for MS, and up to 10 years ago only one tier of treatment was available.
In 2021, fortunately, there are several treatment modalities.
These range from immunomodulators, immunosuppressive medications, lymphocyte sequestrators, immune reconstitution therapies, to bone marrow transplant.
The more recent treatments are very effective.
However, even after bone marrow transplants, about a third of patients develop symptoms again after five years.
As part of the World Brain Day 2021 campaign, NASA, WFN and the MS International Federation invite patients with multiple sclerosis, their loved ones, healthcare providers, multiple sclerosis organisations and the public to join in and raise awareness of multiple sclerosis through the use of the hashtag #WorldBrainDay2021.
To learn more about multiple sclerosis and to participate in the global awareness activities, visit https://wfneurology.org/world-brain-day-2021.