Hyderabad: On the occasion of World Multiple Sclerosis Day on May 30, Dr Abhinay M. Huchche, a consultant neurophysician at SLG Hospitals, Hyderabad explains the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis and the groups vulnerable to this auto-immune disease.

Q. What is multiple sclerosis and when was 30 May chosen as World Multiple Sclerosis Day?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects the nervous system by an immunological mediated damage to the nerve sheath covering (myelin) thus disabling the person. Though uncommon, it causes severe disability in the younger population. This day was chosen in 2009 to increase awareness about the disease and connect the people affected by it.

Q. What are the symptoms of MS?

It affects the younger generation and women are more prone to it than men. Problems with vision, speech, balance and mobility are some of the common symptoms. These symptoms may be transient initially leading to delay in treatment. In later stages, it may affect the intelligence and sphincter control and a minority of those affected can become bedridden.

Q. What are the national and global figures?

Worldwide data shows around 2.8 million are affected by MS, and a majority are in the US and Europe. Thought to be a disease exclusive to the West and colder climates, its prevalence is on the rise even in India.

Q. What are the diagnostic methods for MS?

Younger people with transient symptoms should seek medical attention. Eye specialists and neurologists usually check them with an MRI of the brain, eyes, and the spinal cord. Changes to the MRI usually yield the diagnosis. Special blood tests and withdrawal of fluid from the back (lumbar puncture) may also be performed. Electrophysiological testing (VEP, SSEP, BERA) is also ordered.

Q. What are the treatment options for MS?

Treatment includes a combination of medicines and physical therapy. A lot of advances have taken place on the treatment front and many are still in progress. These usually modulate the hyperactive immune system in a favourable way. The cost of treatment becomes high and that is where the support groups can help. In India, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of India (MSSI) is helping people affected with MS in every aspect of disease care.

Q. How should MS individuals cope during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Most of the MS individuals are on medicines altering the immune system. Thus, they should be in close touch with their treating neurologist so as to prevent COVID-19 and make sure that their condition does not worsen. Appropriate advice should be sought so as to not delay vaccination for COVID-19. As far as possible, they should avoid travel and continue physical therapy and exercise at home to keep themselves fit and fine.

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