Disease described as unpredictable
April 1, 2004
Windsor Star (Ontario)
A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is not a death sentence.
Windsor-born singer Tamia Washington is also living in a time when there's hope for a cure, said one local neurologist. The talented performer was diagnosed with the disease last August after experiencing numbness in her hands.
"There is no cure at the present time, but I have hope that we might find one in our lifetime," said Dr. Hiren Desai. "There are very good drugs available to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. We aren't certain if they will delay the onset of disability, but some studies look positive."
MS is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system which attacks the protective myelin covering the nerves. Desai likened it to a copper wire covered by rubber tubing.
"The rubber tubing gets attacked and damaged and the person goes into remission from the disease when the covering repairs itself," said Desai. "Sometimes the repair is complete, other times it's incomplete."
Most people have the disease for many years before they require a cane or a wheelchair, Desai said.
Canadians have one of the highest rates of MS in the world and it is one of the most common neurological diseases affecting young adults in the country, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
"We estimate there are about 50,000 Canadians with the disease, about 20,000 in Ontario and every day three Canadians are diagnosed with MS," said Deanna Groetzinger, vice-president of communications.
Women are twice as likely to develop MS than men.
Desai said researchers believe MS is an autoimmune disease, where the body's immune system malfunctions and starts attacking the protective myelin around the nerves.
"Living in a northern climate for the first 15 years of life is a risk factor," Desai said. "White caucasians are more susceptible and twin studies show they have a higher susceptibility. There may also be a viral factor. I think there's an environment and genetic component to MS."
Symptoms can include visual disturbances, extreme fatigue, balance and co-ordination problems, muscle stiffness, leg weakness, burning, sensitivity to heat, swallowing difficulties, bladder and bowel problems, impotency and short-term memory problems.
Groetzinger said it's helpful when a high-profile celebrity such as Washington speaks out about the disease.
"It's really important because people identify with her and it really
strikes home when they see someone in the prime of life hit with a chronic
disease, particularly since this is a disease of young, adult women," Groetzinger
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