What is multiple sclerosis? what is multiple sclerosis what is multiple sclerosis what is multiple sclerosis
March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month. I haven’t posted much about MS over the last 3 or 4 years, simply because going through breast cancer took priority in my thoughts. But now, as I get further out from that diagnosis, without a return (knock on wood, I’ve got a mammogram coming up in May) focusing on improving my MS symptoms has become a priority again. And March seems to be the perfect month for me to talk about it here, on my blog.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease, which means it affects your nerves. A substance called myelin wraps around your nerves to protect them. MS is the breakdown of myelin as your body attacks itself. The word “sclerosis” refers to the scar tissue or lesions that appear as the myelin is damaged. The unprotected nerves can’t function as they would with normal, healthy myelin. The damaged nerves produce a wide range of symptoms that vary in severity.
I like to think of the myelin sheath as a road, and the nerve signals as cars. The “sclerosis”, or scars, are potholes that prevent the nerve signals from traveling smoothly. These scars can show up in the brain, or along the spinal column. Patients can have very few lesions (2 or 3), to very many (close to 100). The location of the lesions often causes the specific symptoms. Although many people have similar symptoms, MS affects everyone differently because of the variation in location of lesions.
What is the most common symptom of MS?
Did you know that fatigue is a constant struggle for those of us with Multiple Sclerosis?
Fatigue affects about 80% of people with MS, can significantly interfere with the ability to function at home and work, and may be the most prominent symptom in a person who otherwise has minimal activity limitations.
Fatigue isn’t the same as “being tired”. It is nearly impossible for someone who doesn’t suffer from chronic fatigue, to really understand how debilitating it is. For me, battling extreme fatigue was similar to having the flu, or pneumonia, in that I felt so awful my brain wouldn’t function. It was hard to even pay attention to a TV show. And my body felt heavy, like it was made of lead. I have frequent bouts of fatigue now, but a nap or a night’s rest will have me back to normal. I remember though, one time I came home from shopping at BJs Wholesale Club, soon after I had my first son. Labor and delivery had triggered an MS relapse, and I was struggling with fatigue and cognitive difficulty every day. A little longer than an hour through a big store like that, lifting large bulk packages, and pushing a cart twice as big as a normal grocery store’s was too much. By the time I got home, I could barely function. I was too weak to get my own body out of the car, let alone my baby’s. Our neighbors had to watch the baby while my husband helped me get from the car to my bed.
For years, even if I was having a day where I didn’t need my cane, anytime I was at a store where I’d be shopping for an hour or more, I’d use a handicap parking space, just in case. I have been lucky and never had a person put a nasty note on my car for parking there, but I’ve seen numerous posts on Facebook from my friends with MS, who have had notes like “I see you forgot your wheelchair today”, or something similar. Please, if you ever notice someone who doesn’t appear disabled, but has the proper placard or license plate, please be understanding. Their symptoms may not always be visible, and you never know if something that happens inside of the store will trigger a relapse.
Natural Steps For Relieving MS Symptoms
- Get rest. Take steps to ensure a good night’s sleep. I know, easier said than done, right? Having MS means being wide awake at night, and unable to function wide awake during the day. However, limiting caffeine through the day, taking magnesium before bed, and getting the kids to bed nice and early can help. Organic valerian tea or a natural, gentle sleep supplement can be a tremendous help, but please check with your doctor for any contraindications with your health or prescriptions prior to taking any supplements or herbal teas.
- Exercise. Until recently, this was a really tricky one for me. Exercise would cause me to overheat, or I’d simply overdo it, and I’d need to go home and nap for 2 hours when I finished at the gym. It made me feel worse, most of the time. It is very important to stay as mobile as possible though, because “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. Even if it’s just seated exercises, do something. Go to Physical Therapy or an accessible yoga class, but please do something.
- Stay Cool. Overheating can cause a symptom flare. It is important to take precautions during heat waves, at the gym, at work… everywhere. Make sure your employer knows that you may not be able to work if the air conditioning isn’t working properly. There are several cooling vests and scarves available, and new ones coming out all the time. I have a cooling towel. I drape it over my neck if I have to be outside in the summer. Health before fashion! LOL.
- Eat Right. There are several books for diets for MS and autoimmune disorders. Many people have found relief from following a Blood Type Diet. I followed a restricted diet for years, then a Paleo diet for Autoimmune health, and now I find I do well if we focus on whole foods and plenty of vegetables. I don’t feel right unless I have a green juice and vitamins every day. Extra protein helps too, since my muscles became very weak after my MS symptoms initially set it.
- Limit Stress. I am a Mom to two very active boys, I have two businesses, I am very active with our local school district, and my husband is battling chronic illness. Stress is impossible for me to avoid, so I get it if this seems impossible. But it is absolutely imperative to do this! Naps, yoga, a massage, meditation, a quiet dinner with friends (they are rarely quiet, really, but that’s a big one for me!), adult coloring books. And remember to say “no”. You’re not doing anyone any good if you stretch yourself too thin. Don’t take on too much, and be sure to let friends know what your limitations are.
what is multiple sclerosis
what is multiple sclerosis