About MS: A cast of characters

I get most of my MS news from Medical News Today, and in every article they have a version of the same well-written blurb on what the disease is, so I’ll let their writers sum it up. (The article itself, Study shows the progression of multiple sclerosis can be slowed) is also worth reading.)

MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that disrupts nerve signals between the brain and the rest of the body.

While nearly 1 million people in the United States over the age of 18 years live with a diagnosis of MS, and 2.3 million people globally have the condition, its causes remain a mystery. Women are two to three times more likely than men to receive an MS diagnosis, and most people with MS are 20–50 years old.

The symptoms, which may come and go or worsen, include weakness, blurred vision, lack of coordination, imbalance, pain, memory lapses, mood changes, and — less commonly — paralysis, tremor, and blindness.

The flightiness of MS and the nonspecific nature of its symptoms make it difficult to diagnose, and there is currently no hope of a cure. However, there are certain drugs, commonly known as anti-B cell drugs, which help moderate attacks and delay the progression of disability.

I have most of the first set of symptoms at any given time, but thankfully none of the last three yet. Hopefully the drug I’ve been on for 7+ years (Tecfidera) is working to keep those at bay. But there’s a plethora of symptoms that are rarely mentioned, and from time to time my neurologist and I play a round of “Is This a Thing?” and if I’m not exactly comforted by the results (yay! I get this for life!) at least I know I’m not a hypochondriac.

Although this is not a blog about MS, from time to time, you’ll encounter one symptom or another. Here are the most likely rogues to appear in my revolving cast of characters:

Dizziness/Instability – Thankfully not a 24/7 symptom, but every day I have balance issues. Therapy: Yoga every day. Also, walking fast. My neuro confirms that many of her other patients notice the slower they walk, the dizzier they are.

Cognitive dysfunction – Putting thoughts together can be like pushing oatmeal through a sieve. Often affects my speech as well. Therapy: Writing every day. Reading. Playing music. Studying any language I can get my hands on.

Numbness and paresthesia – Numb hands are a perennial issue, but my paresthesia (pins and needles) is triggered by any vibration on my skin. Therapy: None, really, but I gave up all my hand drums. At concerts, I never clap if I can holler or raise a glass.

Spasticity – In my case, the feeling that my legs are hardening concrete. This is worst at the height of summer and at the coldest parts of winter, and whenever the seasons fluctuate. Therapy: Keep in motion. That fast walking thing has kept me from total paralysis many times. Sitting for no longer than 20 minutes is a good idea (for anyone!)

Fatigue – There’s a special name for it in MS: lassitude. A poetic word for a life-altering symptom. Working a job at 80% is a challenge. Therapy: If a lap up and down stairs or a walk around the block doesn’t help, admit defeat and be grateful for the ADA, sick leave, and compassionate coworkers.

Insomnia – Like most things, it comes and goes. Coffee doesn’t seem to affect it one way or another. Therapy: CBD, meditation, and if those fail, have the sense to give up and start the next day early.

Depression – Not just a consequence of MS, but an actual symptom. Therapy: actual therapy, if it’s debilitating, otherwise most of the above may apply.

It’s been ten years since I’ve added to this list, and I hope to go another ten (at least) before I do!