During 1997, Ann Romney began experiencing severe numbness, fatigue, and other symptoms, and just before Thanksgiving in 1998, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Mitt Romney described watching her fail a series of neurological tests as the worst day of his life. He later said: “I couldn’t operate without Ann. We’re a partnership. We’ve always been a partnership so her being healthy and our being able to be together is essential.”
She initially experienced a period of severe difficulty with the disease, and later said: “I was very sick in 1998 when I was diagnosed. I was pretty desperate, pretty frightened and very, very sick. It was tough at the beginning, just to think, this is how I’m going to feel for the rest of my life.” As I watched Ann Romney on the podium at the Republican Convention I never would have guessed that she had MS if she hadn’t disclosed that she did.
Celebrities who have been touched by MS are Montel Williams who decided to view his illness as ” a call to action — an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions who suffer from MS and their loved ones.” Richard Pryor, Annette Funicello, Alan Osmond (Donny Osmond’s brother), Teri Garr (National MS Society WAMS Chair), David Lander (Squiggy from “Laverne & Shirley”. And of course, Michelle Obama whose father was diagnosed with MS at a young age. He lived with the disease for about 30 years before his death at the age of 66. Michelle had this to say about her father:
“My Dad was our rock. Although he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early thirties, he was our provider, our champion, our hero. But as he got sicker, it got harder for him to walk, it took him longer to get dressed in the morning. But if he was in pain, he never let on. He never stopped smiling and laughing — even while struggling to button his shirt, even while using two canes to get himself across the room to give my Mom a kiss. He just woke up a little earlier, and worked a little harder.”
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the nerves of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) degenerate. Myelin, which provides a covering or insulation for nerves, improves the conduction of impulses along the nerves and also is important for maintaining the health of the nerves. In multiple sclerosis, inflammation causes the myelin to disappear. Consequently, the electrical impulses that travel along the nerves decelerate, that is, become slower. In addition, the nerves themselves are damaged. As more and more nerves are affected, a person experiences a progressive interference with functions that are controlled by the nervous system such as vision, speech, walking, writing, and memory.
About 350,000 people in the U.S. have multiple sclerosis. Usually, a person is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis between 20 and 50 years of age, but multiple sclerosis has been diagnosed in children and in the elderly. Multiple sclerosis is twice as likely to occur in Caucasians as in any other group. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected by multiple sclerosis earlier in life.
What causes Multiple Sclerosis? The cause of multiple sclerosis is still unknown. In the last 20 years, researchers have focused on disorders of the immune system and genetics for explanations.
Is multiple sclerosis inherited?
Although its role is unclear, genetics may play a role in multiple sclerosis. Statistics suggest that genetic factors play a major role in multiple sclerosis, however, other data suggest that environmental factors also play an important role.
What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis may be single or multiple and may range from mild to severe in intensity and short to long in duration. Complete or partial remission from symptoms occurs early in about 70% of individuals with multiple sclerosis.
- Visual disturbances may be the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis, but they usually subside. A person may notice a patch of blurred vision, red-to-orange or red-to-gray distortions (color desaturation), or monocular visual loss (loss of vision in one eye). Visual symptoms due to optic nerve inflammation (optic neuritis) in multiple sclerosis usually are accompanied or preceded by eye pain.
- Limb weakness with or without difficulties with coordination and balance may occur early.
- Muscle spasms, fatigue, numbness, and prickling pain are common symptoms.
- There may be a loss of sensation, speech impediment (typically a problem articulating words), tremors, or dizziness.
Fifty-percent of people experience mental changes such as:
- decreased concentration,
- attention deficits,
- some degree of memory loss,
- inability to perform sequential tasks, or
- impairment in judgment.
Other symptoms may include:
As the disease worsens, individuals may experience sexual dysfunction or reduced bowel and bladder control. Heat appears to intensify multiple sclerosis symptoms for about 60% of those with the disease. Pregnancy seems to reduce the number of attacks, especially during the third trimester.
How is multiple sclerosis treated?
There are many issues for the patient and physician to consider in treating multiple sclerosis. Goals may include:
- improving the speed of recovery from attacks (treatment with steroid drugs);
- reducing the number of attacks or the number of MRI lesions; or
- attempting to slow progression of the disease (treatment with disease modifying drugs or DMDs).
An additional goal is relief from complications due to the loss of function of affected organs (treatment with drugs aimed at specific symptoms).
Most neurologists will consider treatment with DMDs once the diagnosis of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis is established. Many will begin treatment at the time of the first multiple sclerosis attack, since clinical trials have suggested that patients in whom treatment is delayed may not benefit as much as patients who are treated early.
It is important for patients to talk to their doctor before deciding to go on therapy since DMDs differ in their uses. Utilizing support groups or counseling may be helpful for patients and their families whose lives may be affected directly by multiple sclerosis.
According to an international study, genetic differences between men and women could be the reason why multiple sclerosis strikes more women than men. MS is twice as common among women as it is in men. The reasons for the gap aren’t known. Women with MS were more likely to have a variation of a gene that produces high levels of a protein called interferon gamma. Interferon gamma can aggravate MS by promoting inflammation and tissue damage. The gene variation was less common among men. “That might explain why men are generally protected more from MS.” Brian Weinshenker, MD said in a news release. Similar findings were reported by Italian researchers.
There are many myths and misconceptions about MS, and without the facts, your multiple sclerosis diagnosis can be scarier than it should be. MS is a chronic autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. It’s caused when the immune system attacks the myelin, the protective insulation covering nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Myelin is destroyed and replaced by scars of hardened tissue (lesions), and some underlying nerves are damaged. But MS is almost never fatal, and many people diagnosed with the disease never need a wheelchair. Your doctor can provide you with the latest facts about MS and what your prognosis may be. The National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology are also reliable sources.
2. Be sure your multiple sclerosis diagnosis is definitive.
MS is not an easy disease to diagnosis, so getting a definitive multiple sclerosis diagnosis can be a waiting game. Various tests may be used to make a diagnosis, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), evoked potentials (EP), and spinal fluid analysis (spinal tap), as well as a neurological exam. According to the latest criteria, your physician must do all of the following in order to make a multiple sclerosis diagnosis:
- Find evidence of damage in two separate areas of the central nervous system
- Find evidence that the damage occurred at least one month apart
- Rule out all other possible diseases and diagnoses
For many people, getting a definitive multiple sclerosis diagnosis is actually a relief — they now have a name for unexplained symptoms.
3. Understand that MS symptoms are unpredictable.
No two people have exactly the same MS symptoms, and you may have different symptoms from time to time. MS symptoms can include numbness, blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, extreme fatigue, problems with memory, bladder dysfunction, paralysis, blindness, and more. But these symptoms are unpredictable. “Over the course of the disease, some MS symptoms will come and go, while others may be long lasting,” says Dr. Sheremata. “It will be different for each MS patient.”
4. Don’t delay multiple sclerosis treatment.
At this time, the goal of multiple sclerosis treatment is to control symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life. After receiving a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, it’s important to start multiple sclerosis treatment as soon as possible. There are now a number of FDA-approved medications that have been shown to “modify” or slow down the progression of MS and lessen the frequency and severity of MS attacks. “The disease is more likely to progress and possibly lead to disability if you don’t begin treatment early in the disease,” says Sheremata.
5. Track your MS symptoms.
Keeping a record of your MS symptoms and how you are feeling will help your doctor determine how the disease is progressing and whether the medications you are taking are working. This will also help your doctor recognize a relapse, which is a characterized by a worsening of previous symptoms or the appearance of a new symptom that lasts more than 24 hours. If you think you’re having MS symptoms, write them down in a log. Include when the symptoms happened, details of what they felt like, and how long they lasted.
6. Avoid these MS episode triggers.
Extreme fatigue is a common indicator of an impending relapse, which can last for days, weeks, or months. But certain triggers are thought to bring on relapses or make them worse. Stress, smoking, fever, hot baths, and sun exposure are believed to contribute to the worsening of MS symptoms and relapses. Additionally, drinking alcohol in excess is discouraged for people with multiple sclerosis because intoxication causes poor coordination and slurred speech, which can worsen or add to existing MS symptoms.
7. Find the right doctor for you.
MS is a lifelong disease, so it’s important to be under the care of aMS specialist who is a good match for you. The neurologist who provides your initial multiple sclerosis diagnosis may not be the specialist you want to stick with for life. Your local chapter of the National MS Society should have a listing of nearby neurologists specializing in MS. Support groups for MS patients (available through hospitals and the National MS Society) are also helpful for getting doctor referrals.
8. Consider complementary and alternative medicine.
In addition to taking medication to control your MS symptoms, you may want to consider complementary and alternative medicine(CAM), such as biofeedback, acupuncture, guided imagery, meditation, massage, tai chi, yoga, and dietary supplements. More than 30 percent of people with MS turn to complementary forms of medicine to relieve symptoms, according to a recent review of studies published in the journal Occupational Therapy International. These natural therapies were most used by MS patients for relief of pain, fatigue, and stress.
9. Think first about who you will tell about your MS.
Announcing to your employer that you have multiple sclerosis could have an effect on your job security, employment options, and career path. Before disclosing the disease at your workplace, learn about your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Of course, you’ll want to tell your closest family members and friends, particularly those who know you well enough to notice that something is wrong. But you are not obligated to share news of your multiple sclerosis diagnosis with everyone in your life. Instead, pick the people who will be most supportive and helpful as you begin to cope with the disease.
10. Don’t give up hope.
Although there is currently no cure for MS, new treatments and advances in research may better relieve symptoms and even eliminate the disease in the future. Because MS strikes so many people in the prime of life, scientists are racing to find a cure, and a number of new multiple sclerosis treatments are currently under investigation. This research is giving new hope to people affected by MS.
As I travel across the country speaking about MS, perhaps I can offer others comfort and hope.
Annette FunicelloMultiple Sclerosis is obviously close to my heart and I’m determined to make a difference in the lives of people who suffer from the disease by raising the profile of MS, as well as raising funds for advocacy and research.
Ann RomneyOddly enough, MS has made my life so much better than it was before. I now appreciate what I have and I am not running around like a rat in a maze.
Teri GarrMS doesn’t define who I am.
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Romney; http://www.tampabay.com/news/health/medicine/multiple-sclerosis-patients-doctors-appreciate-help-from-ann-romney/1251966; http://www.ranker.com/list/10-celebrities-touched-by-multiple-sclerosis/medicaltraveler?page=2; http://www.medicinenet.com/multiple_sclerosis/article.htm#what_is_multiple_sclerosis; http://www.everydayhealth.com/multiple-sclerosis/10-things-new-ms-patients-should-know.aspx