More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Coping with multiple sclerosis

Chris Zelk

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system in which inflammation and breakdown in the protective insulation surrounding the nerve fibers of the central nervous system occurs. In essence, the body’s immune system turns against itself.

About 800 of the estimated 350,000 Americans afflicted with multiple sclerosis (MS) live in the 20 counties covered by the Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“We assume that there are probably twice that many that we don’t know about,” the society’s chapter programs Director Jeanne B. Brice said, “or they’re in the process of getting a diagnosis, or they’re in denial and don’t want to deal with it.”

The unpredictable physical and emotional effects of the disease can be lifelong.

Symptoms of MS vary widely depending on the individual and may be mild such as numbness or tingling in the limbs or severe with paralysis or loss of vision. Other symptoms include loss of balance, slurred speech, tremors and poor coordination, Brice said, adding nearly all MS sufferers experience fatigue.

Brice said some MS sufferers may have only slight obvious symptoms, but may have numerous invisible symptoms.

“It’s a very confusing disease,” she said. “It’s confusing for the doctors and the people (afflicted) and the family and friends of the people who have it.”

MS, because of its wide variance of symptoms, is difficult to diagnose and may take several years for a definitive diagnosis, she said.

“Because of the variability of the symptoms and because of the fact that they relapse and remit, sometimes people will have some dizziness or tingling or blurred vision and it goes away, and they think they’re alright,” she said.

“It takes awhile until all of a sudden they’re hit between the eyes, and they think ‘Okay, something’s definitely wrong here. I need to get checked,’” Brice said.

MS is not a fatal disease. MS is neither contagious nor directly inherited, she said.

Brice said although there is no cure for MS, various drugs that help lessen the frequency and severity of MS attacks and slow the progression of the disability - including Avonex, Betaseron and Copaxone - have been devel-oped in recent years. These drugs are administered as daily or weekly injections.

The majority of people afflicted with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, with twice as many women as men developing the disease, she said.

“There’s a lot of research going on relating to gender differences and hormone effects," Brice said. “Usually, there are a lot more women who get MS, but men typically have a more severe progression than women do.”

For more information about multiple sclerosis contact the Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at (423) 954-9700 or visit the web site at