Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a little-understood disease that has gained attention in recent years due to high-profile diagnosed cases like those of Hollywood stars Selma Blair and Christina Applegate.
Mayo Clinic describes MS as a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves, resulting in nerve damage that disrupts communication between the brain and the body.
According to current figures, one in every 700 South Africans has multiple sclerosis. However, this figure could be understated due to missing diagnoses in the government sector.
According to Dr Natanya Fourie, MBChB MMed, Neurology University of Pretoria, limited resources, a scarcity of neurologists, and the belief that African people do not get MS all contribute to this problem. In order to provide early treatment and care for MS patients in South Africa, she said it is critical that we address these challenges and improve diagnosis rates.
To promote early diagnosis and treatment, Dr Fourie partnered with Novartis South Africa. This collaboration aims to raise awareness among all South Africans about the common signs and symptoms of MS.
While the symptoms of MS can vary widely among patients, the onset of the disease typically occurs between the ages of 20 and 30, with a higher prevalence among women, said Dr Fourie.
Explaining that certain environmental factors, such as an unhealthy diet, obesity, smoking, vitamin D deficiency, and the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), can also increase the risk of developing MS.
Common signs and symptoms of MS include vision problems, motor weakness, sensory fallout, pins and needles, and numbness. Delayed diagnosis can lead to more relapses and a worse prognosis for patients.
She explained that as MS progresses, individuals may experience long-term complications or disabilities, including a decline in mobility and patients ending up in need of assistive devices like canes, walkers, or wheelchairs.
Loss of bladder control and bowel problems can also occur in advanced stages of the disease.
“There are a variety of modern treatment options and therapies available to effectively manage the disease.”
As echoed by many medical experts around the world, adopting a well-rounded diet, quitting smoking, and exercising keeps most illnesses at bay.
“With advancements in medication and support, people can maintain their dignity and fight the disease alongside their doctors and specialists.
“Having a positive attitude, seeking help when needed, and being open to necessary treatments can greatly improve outcomes for MS patients,” said Dr Fourie.
By raising awareness, improving diagnosis rates, and providing support, we can make a difference in the lives of South Africans living with multiple sclerosis.