World Multiple Sclerosis Day: What is it and Why?

young brunette woman sitting at laptop with coffee cup and glasses to her side

World Multiple Sclerosis Day (or MS Day) started in 2009 and takes place on 30 May each year. The aim is to increase community awareness of Multiple Sclerosis and to connect those living with MS to support networks and other resources.

MS affects more than 25,000 people in Australia and is three times more common in women than in men.  According to MS Australia:

  • 25,600 Australians are now living with MS
  • On average more than 10 Australians are diagnosed with MS every week
  • The cost to the community of MS is close to $2.0 billion
  • Only 4 out of 10 Australians rank MS as a community health priority

In 2022, the World MS Day theme is ‘connections’.  As explained by the organisation itself:

“MS Connections is all about building community connection, self-connection and connections to quality care. We are challenging social barriers that leave people affected by MS feeling lonely and socially isolated. Together, we advocate for better services, celebrate support networks and champion self-care. Change the future, find your #MSConnections.”

What is multiple sclerosis?

As part of the World Multiple Sclerosis Day initiatives, we wanted to raise awareness of the condition within Australia specifically. As mentioned above, it’s not considered a health priority for a significant proportion of Australians despite the impact it can have on so many lives – often the case for invisible disabilities in general.

So what exactly is MS? The term multiple sclerosis directly translated means “many scars.” In cases of MS, the scars relate to the areas that appear on the brain and spinal cord caused by damage or death to the myelin, which is the sheath covering a nerve. When damage occurs, a lesion is left behind.

The cause of MS is not known, but theories include that it is an autoimmune disease, that it is caused by genetics, that it is caused by environmental factors, and that it is caused by a virus. What we do know is that you have a higher chance of developing multiple sclerosis if you have a close relative living with MS.

hand holding an orange ribbon for multiple sclerosis (MS) awareness against blue sky with clouds

The four types of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis comes in more than one form. Someone living with MS could have one of the following four types:

1. Relapsing remitting MS (RRMS)

This type of Multiple Sclerosis is the most common. About 75-85% of people living with MS begin with RRMS. There are clear “attack” periods where symptoms worsen or new symptoms appear (known as active disease activity) followed by a partial or complete recovery (remission/non-active disease activity) and then another relapse and attack of symptoms, and so on. When in remission, symptoms don’t get worse. They might stay the same or disappear – but for some, each relapse brings worsened symptoms and their health gradually declines. This is secondary progressive MS, explained below.

2. Secondary progressive MS (SPMS)

As mentioned above, SPMS is diagnosed when an RRMS relapse phase is followed by a progressive worsening of the illness. A lot of people with RRMS will eventually be diagnosed with SPMS. It can be a challenging part of the MS journey for a lot of people; the symptoms and experience of SPMS can be very different from person to person.

3. Primary progressive MS (PPMS) 

This type of MS is similar to SPMS, with the main difference being that it’s diagnosed when the condition gradually worsens right from the start. That is, there usually aren’t periods of recovery or remission. This type of Multiple Sclerosis is found in around 10 to 15% of patients.

4. Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)

Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) is the first episode of neurologic symptoms, which have to last 24 hours or more. The episode imitates Multiple Sclerosis but doesn’t yet meet the criteria for diagnosis. People who have a CIS may develop MS, or it may be a once-off event. If an MRI detects brain lesions (similar to the lesions found in MS) your chances of developing diagnosable MS are significantly higher.

What are the symptoms of MS?

MS usually starts with mild symptoms. They progress differently for each person in terms of duration and severity.

Symptoms themselves can vary too, because they depend on how badly and which part of the central nervous system is affected. Because no two cases of Multiple Sclerosis are the same, it can be hard to define all the symptoms.

Some of the more common ones include:

  • problems with body and motor control (e.g. muscle spasms, slurring, tremors, swallowing issues, weakness, loss of coordination, balance issues)
  • fatigue
  • heat sensitivity (i.e. symptoms worsen on hot days, after a hot shower, and so on)
  • nervous system issues (e.g. vertigo, dizziness, pins and needles, numbness)
  • visual disturbances (e.g. blurred or double vision, sight loss)
  • continence problems/bladder or bowel dysfunction
  • problems with cognitive function (e.g. changes in concentration, memory, brain fog)
  • mood symptoms (depression, anxiety)

This World Multiple Sclerosis Day, why not chick this video from MS Australia, which touches on some of the invisible symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis:

Treatment of MS

There is no cure for MS, so treatment options revolve around management and reduction of symptoms.

Medicines slow the progress of Multiple Sclerosis and limit the risk of relapses. Doctors refer to these as ‘disease modifying therapies’. They work by targeting the immune system to slow the frequency and severity of attacks. However, these immunotherapies don’t reverse existing symptoms.

Other medicines are used to control symptoms during attacks or relapses. Steroids can help reduce inflammation, but there are also others that ease symptoms associated with pain, muscle spasms, fatigue, depression, and more. Each person will have a different care regime depending on their particular situation.

On top of treatment with medication, certain lifestyle changes can also make a difference to some people living with Multiple Sclerosis. These include regular exercise, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, as well as a healthy and balanced diet that’s high in fibre.

Insurance for people living with disability

People living with disability, whether Multiple Sclerosis or otherwise, may be eligible for one of Blue Badge Insurance’s specialist insurance offerings.

For example, if you have a disability parking permit you qualify for heavily discounted disability car insurance premiums. We also offer comprehensive, cost-effective wheelchair insurance in Australia and insurance for wheelchair accessible vehicles and disability converted cars. Time to get a quote?

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