Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system that affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another. And while new treatments and advances in research offer hope to those affected by this disease, its cause is still a mystery and the cure remains elusive.
WHAT IS MS?
MS IN THE NW
MS affects an estimated 2.1 million people worldwide, including more than 12,000 of our friends, family members and neighbors in the Northwest. And while its exact cause is still unknown, scientists believe a combination of factors—some of which are specific to our corner of the country—contribute to its onset.
So is it the darkness? Yes, actually, it is—at least in part—because our lack of sunshine results in reduced levels of vitamin D, which plays an important role inimmune response. And then there’s the genetic component. Scientists believe that the risk of MS is higher for people of Northern European descent. But beyond these broad categories, the complexities of MS in the Northwest have yet to be fully unraveled and remain the topic of cutting-edge research.
SYMPTOMS / DIAGNOSING
Just as the cause of MS is full of complexities, so is a diagnosis. There’s no one test that can determine if a person has it. Rather, there’s a list of criteria that must be met, which is why many people go undiagnosed—sometimes for several years. But if you experience symptoms associated with MS like fatigue, numbness, balance and coordination problems, impaired vision, or memory loss, among others, the first step is to bring them all to your doctor’s attention.
LIVING WITH MS
Whether you’ve just recently been diagnosed, have lived with the disease for years, or are a friend or family member of someone living with MS, you’re not alone. Financial assistance, educational resources and the emotional support of people who’ve been there are all just a click or a phone call away.
As the number of people affected by MS becomes greater every year, so does the need for your help. Whether it’s in time, money, expertise or ideas, your contributions provide support to those affected by MS and offer hope that a world free of MS is within reach. So take the first step.