March is Multiple Sclerosis Education Month. Multiple Sclerosis, commonly known as MS, is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system and disrupts the flow of information both within the brain and between the brain and body. The lifelong condition can present in a range of signs and symptoms and can occur in isolated attacks or build up progressively over time.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), some of the more common symptoms include fatigue, numbness or tingling, walking difficulties, vision problems, vertigo, pain and emotional changes. Less common symptoms can consist of speech problems, hearing loss and itching, among others.

While anyone can get MS, the disease affects women at least twice as often as men. The NMSS estimates that MS is thought to affect about 2.3 million people worldwide. Most people who are diagnosed with MS are between the ages of 20 and 50, but it has been found in people both older and younger. Among well-known people with the disease are Ann Romney, Teri Garr, Montel Williams and Neil Cavuto.

Currently there is no single test to diagnose MS. Instead, a doctor will use a combination of medical history, various lab tests and a neurological exam to rule out other possible diseases in order to confirm an MS diagnosis. However, a recent study out of Macquarie University in Australia is showing promising work on a biomarker blood test that could help diagnose the subtype of MS a patient has, more quickly and with greater accuracy.

While there is no cure for MS, treatments such as medication and occupational therapy can help manage the complex disease. As each individual patient varies in his or her symptoms, treatment will vary as well.

Even if you don't have MS, there are things you can do to help this March and all year round. There are Walk MS Live Events happening in April and May in the D.C. area and a biking event in June. Sign up to walk, bike, donate or do all three at nationalmssociety.org/Chapters/MDM/Fundraising-Events.

Walk MS Live:

  • Columbia - 4/1
  • Reston - 4/2
  • Manassas - 4/8
  • Waldorf - 4/8
  • Rockville - 4/23
  • Washington, D.C. - 4/30
  • Bowie - 5/6

Resources:

Books:

  • "Live Your Life, Not Your Diagnosis: How to Manage Stress and Live Well with Multiple Sclerosis" by Andrea Wildenthal Han
  • "Chef Interrupted" by Trevis L. Gleason
  • "Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness" by Richard M. Cohen
  • "Curing MS: How Science Is Solving the Mysteries of Multiple Sclerosis" by Howard L. Weiner, MD
  • "Multiple Sclerosis: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed" by Nancy J. Holland, T. Jock Murray, Stephen G. Reingold