by Erika Edholm, Director, Programs & Services
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is a national non-profit organization with a bold vision; a world free of multiple sclerosis. Its mission is that people affected by MS can live their best lives as we stop MS in its tracks, restore what has been lost and end MS forever. The Society is a network of 43 offices across the country, with one right here in Arizona, working to support families impacted by MS and other related diseases.
What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. MS involves an immune-mediated process in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The exact antigen — or target that the immune cells are sensitized to attack — remains unknown.
Within the CNS, the immune system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers, as well as the nerve fibers themselves. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing a wide variety of symptoms. The disease is thought to be triggered in a genetically susceptible individual by a combination of one or more environmental factors. People with MS typically experience one of four disease courses, which can be mild, moderate or severe.
Managing MS is on ongoing process, beginning with the very first symptoms and continuing throughout the disease course. It’s never too soon or too late to think about how to access high quality, comprehensive, interdisciplinary care. Knowing what to look for, where to find it, and how to work effectively with your doctor and other health professionals is essential to your heath, wellness and quality of life.
When Sylvia Lawry started the MS movement in 1946 with the founding of the National MS Society, research into multiple sclerosis was almost non-existent. The disease took years to diagnose, and there were no therapies proven to slow the course of MS. Things have changed. Decades of research into MS and the basic workings of the immune and nervous systems have built a critical platform of knowledge now serving as a springboard for progress. The Society’s $870 million research investment has fueled many of these advances, and today’s picture looks different for many: There are 16 therapies specifically approved for treating and managing MS, and more potential MS therapies in development today than at any other time in history. MS is more quickly diagnosed, enabling early and sustained therapy to slow disease activity. There is much greater awareness of the many symptoms of MS and ways to address them to improve quality of life, and scientists are making breakthroughs in identifying risk factors that can increase a person’s susceptibility to MS, which will help lead to ways to prevent the disease.
The National MS Society also offers an extensive variety of programs, services, resources and connection opportunities for people living with and affected by MS, including family members, caregivers and other members of their support systems. These resources can be accessed in person in your community, online, by phone and by email.
For a list of programs and events happening in Arizona, visit www.arizonams.org or call 1-800-FIGHT-MS.