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Multiple Sclerosis 101

People who aren’t familiar with Multiple Sclerosis often say that they don’t know anyone who has it. But MS can be an “invisible” disease…and so the truth is, many people may not realize that they actually do know someone living with MS.

That’s one reason why people with Multiple Sclerosis talk about the frustration it causes – they may look “fine” on the outside, but are often struggling on the inside. It’s a complex, confounding illness, in every way.

MS is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that “disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body,” according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Or, as my daughter says, “it makes it hard to do things.”

When I first explained MS to my kids, I told them to look at the coating on an electric cord and imagine the wires transporting information inside. When the protective coating is rubbed off, the wires are exposed and damaged, making it impossible to accurately transmit the information. That’s what often happens in the brain and/or spinal column of a person living with MS – the coating that encases nerves becomes damaged, which impacts the ability of those nerves to transmit impulses. And that can make it hard to do things.

What kinds of things? Eighty percent of people with MS suffer from fatigue. Some individuals have difficulty with vision, sensation, dizziness or pain. These invisible symptoms are frequently impossible to spot just by looking at a person. There can also be other, more visible symptoms, such as issues with gait and balance.

For those of us who suffer from a disease that can make it hard to do things, what we crave more than anything is some measure of control – the ability to take positive, meaningful steps that might change the course of our illness. While there is no diet that’s proven to definitively change the course of MS, making positive, healthy changes can be rewarding on many levels.

Eating healthy foods, stretching and exercising regularly, and being attentive to your physical and emotional needs are essential to long-term health…and even for those with an “invisible” disease, these changes can have a very visible impact on your life.