Learn About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is one of the most commonly occurring chronic neurological diseases. MS affects the central nervous system (CNS)—the brain and spinal cord—and is thought to be caused by a disorder of the immune system, or auto-immune disorder. About 400,000 people nationwide, and possibly 2.5 million people worldwide, have MS. The disorder affects people of all ages, but onset is most likely to occur between the ages of 20 and 40. Women are twice as likely as men to develop MS. The disease is also more common in regions with moderate climates and in people of northern European descent. The experience of people with MS varies in the extent and severity of symptoms, as well as the progression of the disease.

The Role of Health Professionals

When you or your loved one are being tested or receiving treatment for MS, you may seek the expertise of a number of different health professionals. Because people who have MS experience different symptoms and potentially many stages, you may interact with what might seem like a great many physicians, social workers, physical therapists and other health care providers. It can be overwhelming to coordinate care and to find appropriate resources and professionals who are trained in MS care. Keeping a notebook, or “health journal” of the interactions with health care providers, treatments administered, and medications prescribed will help to keep appointments organized and will provide a personal record of care.

Getting Support

It is important both for people with MS and their loved ones to get support when dealing with the disease. Support groups which provide safe, caring environments to share experiences and challenges are available for both individuals with MS and those who care for them. Topics discussed may include adjustment, coping, disease course, family issues, frustrations, insurance, medication, resources and more. Counseling also may be helpful for individuals, couples or families who are learning to cope with chronic illness or periodic health crises.

Family and friends who are providing assistance to a loved one with MS may feel stressed and thus be at increased risk of poor health, depression and isolation. It is important for the health of the family caregiver as well as the health of the person with MS for the caregivers to take some time off (or “respite”) from caregiving, to get enough sleep and have a support system of their own. Respite care can be arranged with the help of family members, friends, community organizations, volunteer services, independent living centers or home care agencies. Caregivers who have time for themselves give better care to their loved ones.

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