Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects 2.5 million people worldwide and is one of the most common neurological disorders and cause of disability of young adults, especially in Europe and North America.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is an inflammatory demyelinating condition of the central nervous system (CNS) that is generally considered to be autoimmune in nature.
Our nerve fibres in the central nervous system are protected by a substance called myelin which helps messages travel quickly and smoothly between the brain and the rest of the body. In MS, our immune system which normally helps to fight off infections, mistakes myelin for a foreign body and attacks it. This damages the myelin and strips it off the nerve fibres, either partially or completely, leaving scars known as lesions or plaques. This damage disrupts messages travelling along nerve fibres - they can slow down, become distorted, or not get through at all.
As well as myelin loss, there can also sometimes be damage to the actual nerve fibres. It is this nerve damage that causes the accumulation of disability that can occur over time. MS is predominantly an illness of young/middle-aged adults but it is also increasingly apparent that it can occur in children. Paediatric MS has been increasing and as a consequence of the number of children diagnosed has also risen over the last 10 years.
Some of the celebrities reportedly touched by MS are the late comedian/actor Richard Pryor, journalist Richard Cohen, Hollywood screenwriter Michael Blake (Dances with Wolves) and more recently, the son of rock star Ozzy Osbourne, Jack Osbourne.
According to published findings by the World Health Organization (WHO), there is an increasing need to improve support and services for multiple sclerosis. There are major issues to be addressed in improving MS care for people living with MS and for health professionals involved in MS care.
Some of the major points cited were: (1) to inform and educate the public and health professionals about MS, (2) to make health services, including MS centres and rehabilitation facilities, accessible and available, (3) develop MS societies and support groups and (4) improve and expand research into MS issues. Also pointed out, there is a need to integrate health and employment teams to improve vocational rehabilitation (a process whereby people with MS can be enabled to access, maintain or return to employment or other useful occupation).