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Ten facts about multiple sclerosis (MS)

Understanding multiple sclerosis is step one to coping with the disease.

By Donna Fleming
What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a disorder of the central nervous system that interferes with signals being passed between the brain, spinal cord and parts of the body. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle stiffness and spasms, bowel and bladder problems, difficulty seeing, memory lapses and trouble swallowing or speaking. The condition affects people in different ways – some have mild symptoms that come and go, while others get progressively worse over time and can end up incapacitated.
  1. Around one in every 1000 Kiwis get MS, with almost three times as many women being diagnosed as men.
  1. MS is more prevalent in people with a European background. It is rarely found in Maori and Pacific Islanders, and is not common in people of Asian descent.
  1. The further you get from the equator, the more cases of MS occur. It is more common in places like Scotland and Canada than in sub-tropical countries. Around twice as many cases are seen in the lower South Island than the upper North Island.
  1. It's unusual for MS symptoms to show up in people over 50.
  1. MS is not hereditary – it is not passed from parent to child – but having a mother, father or sibling with it increases the risk.
  1. Exactly what causes MS is not known, but there's a theory that a viral infection early in life can result in the immune system malfunctioning. This has yet to be proven.
  1. There is no known cure for MS, but there are treatments and medications that can help manage the symptoms. Many people with it continue to lead active and independent lives.
  1. Studies suggest there may be a link between a diet rich in saturated fats (from meat and dairy products, for example) and a higher risk of MS. One researcher followed the progress of MS patients for 34 years and found those who cut down on saturated fats had a slower progression of the disease and greater mobility than those who couldn't stick to a low-fat diet.
  1. There also appears to be a link between MS and the amount of sunlight you're exposed to, especially in early life. One study found that spending time in the sun may lower the risk of MS, most likely because we get vitamin D from the sun. However, increasing exposure to sunlight is not recommended because of the skin cancer risk.
  1. A recent study has shown that regular Botox injections may help ease hand and arm tremors, a common symptom associated with MS.
For more information on multiple sclerosis, visit msnz.org.nz

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