About World MS Day

Since 2009, May 30 every year is World MS Day.

The current theme is ‘connections’.

That means connection with community, self-connection, and connection with quality care. 

In Australia, the focus of World MS Day is on MS Nurses, as part of connections with quality care.

MS Nurses support people living with MS from the time of diagnosis and help to connect them to expert care, education, and support. They are a vital link to community connection.

World MS Day is also about challenging social barriers that leave people affected by MS feeling lonely and socially isolated. 

Together, we advocate for another 50 MS nurses, which would provide life-changing care for so many people. We also celebrate support networks and champion self-care. 

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological condition that affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. 

In a case of mistaken identity, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own myelin, the protective covering of nerve fibres.

This causes the myelin to become inflamed and scarred. The damage is known as de-myelination.

Similar to a damaged electrical cord with compromised insulation, the disrupted myelin interferes with the smooth transmission of electrical signals. 

As a result, messages from the brain may be slowed, distorted, or completely blocked as they travel along the affected nerve fibres.  

illustrati0n of neuron with oligodendrocyte and melin sheath. Cross section shows microfilament, microtubule, and axon beneath the meylin.
Caption: Neuron with oligodendrocyte and myelin sheath. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complex and often unpredictable neurological condition. It is very difficult for a medical professional to make a prognosis or predict the outcome or course of the disease because there are so many variable factors.

How common is MS?

Over 2.9 million people worldwide have MS. That includes over one million Americans and more than 33,300 Australians. In New South Wales, there are at least 7,680 people who have MS.

The prevalence is rapidly accelerating in Australia.

Alarmingly, the latest Australian data reveal an increase of 30 percent in the four years between 2017 and 2021.

The figures were commissioned by MS Australia and prepared by the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania

While this is concerning, it is not surprising as it reflects the global trend.

MS is also the most common chronic neurological disease diagnosed in young adults in Australia.

The average age of diagnosis is between 20 and 40 years. It affects two to three times more women than men.

What are the symptoms of MS?

Known as a ‘snowflake’ disease, meaning the experience of MS is different for everyone. 

MS can lead to a wide range of symptoms depending on the location and extent of the damage.

Different subtypes of MS are referred to as relapsing remitting, primary progressive, and secondary progressive. However, these are more descriptors rather than distinct diseases. 

The most commonly reported symptom is fatigue. Other symptoms may include visual problems, or optic neuritis, tingling like ‘pins and needles’, sensory problems, lack of balance, and poor coordination are common. 

Pain, difficulty walking, vertigo, bladder and bowel problems, thinking and memory problems, and anxiety and depression can all be experienced. 

What causes multiple sclerosis?

While a lot is known about MS, the exact cause of multiple sclerosis is not fully understood. 

It is thought to have genetic, environmental, and immune system factors.

Although it can be disabling, many people do not require a wheelchair or walking aids during their lifetimes. 

Further, studies have shown that people with MS have a similar life expectancy to the general population. 

How is MS managed?

While there is no cure for MS, there is a lot that people with MS can do to reduce rates of relapse (also known as flare-ups or ‘attacks’),  improve quality of life, and slow or stop disease progression. 

These things can help:

  1. Disease-modifying therapies: These medications aim to modify the course of the disease, reduce the frequency and severity of relapses, and slow down or halt disease progression.
  2. Healthy Diet and Lifestyle: Including regular exercise, a healthy diet, stress management, quitting smoking, getting enough sleep, and sunlight can positively impact overall wellbeing.
  3. Symptom management: Symptoms such as fatigue, muscle spasms, pain, and bladder or bowel problems can be managed through medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and lifestyle changes.
  4. Rehabilitation programs: Physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy can help people with MS maintain and improve mobility, enhance daily functioning, and manage any speech or swallowing difficulties.
  5. Support: Psychological support, counselling, and support groups can provide emotional and social support to people with MS and their families.

For further information

If you suspect you may have MS, it is recommended to consult with your general practitioner at Narara Valley Medical who can assess your symptoms and guide you through the appropriate referral process to a specialist. 

The specialist will then conduct further evaluations and diagnostic tests to confirm, or rule out, the diagnosis of MS. Remember, support is available.

The information in this article is general and does not constitute medical advice.

To see more NSW Health Days coming up, check out the calendar.

Some useful links are below:

MS Australia
MS Plus
OvercomingMS.org
Prevalence Data