CHENNAI: Early diagnosis, immediate treatment and connecting with care givers is the need of the hour to manage patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), said experts speaking to Express on World Multiple Sclerosis Day on Saturday.
MS is a long-term disease that attacks the nervous system of the body. It causes seizures, numbing, sudden blinding and could even lead to paralysis permanently disabling a person. It needs life-long treatment like other chronic illnesses.
Patients often do not seek help fearing stigma and fall pray to techniques like exorcism and faith healing, preventing them from taking effective treatment. MS affects mostly women in the age group of 20-35.
Sharmada*, started having sudden bouts of seizures when she was 15-years-old. "Since then, the frequency rose to the point that I had up to 20 seizures a day sometimes," she said. A year later, the right half of her body went fully numb, she said adding that she had use a scribe to write her exams.
The now 25-year-old woman from Erode, has resumed to normal life, thanks to the aid of sustained treatment under a neurologist. "I work at an MNC in Bangalore. I go for jogging almost every morning. Sometimes my limbs feel numb when I don't move them for a while, butit goes away when I exercise. My life is as normal as I can expect it to be with long-term treatment," said Sharmada.
In most people, the disease does not worsen progressively, but in sudden relapses or attacks; therefore, it has to treated as soon as a relapse occurs to prevent long term damage to the nervous system, according to a team of MS specialists from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS). "If a person, who is completely normal, suddenly has severe seizures, numbness, blindness or other neurological issue, the chances of them having MS is really high. It is crucial to take an MRI to find out which part of the brain is affected," said Dr M Netravathi, a senior neurologist from NIMHANS.
While MS cannot be reversed, it can be controlled effectively. MS however, is almost always accompanied by psycho-social effects on the body. Dr Priya Thomas, a faculty of the Psychiatric Social Work department from NIMHANS said, "When a healthy person suddenly becomes disabled, it wreaks a havoc on the family. The discovery itself propels stress and stress in turn triggers relapses. This could push a patient in a downward spiral."
Ann Gonsalves, founder chairperson, Multiple Sclerosis Society India (MSSI), Chennai Chapter told Express that currently there are no proper statistics that show the prevalence of the disease in the Indian population. "Owing to lack of awareness among the poor and stigma among all patients, the reporting of the disease is extremely low," she said. "The government should study the prevalence and subsidise the treatment, particularly for those who are permanently disabled and cannot earn," she added.
Five major psycho-social stress triggers in MS management in India, according to Vasundharaa S Nair, senior research fellow, NIMHANS:
1. Losing mobility and becoming dependent of caregiver
2. Availability of treatment only in tertiary care centres delaying treatment
3. Increased strain on the lady of the house to meet gender roles
4. Poor support system
5. Lack of awareness and influx of myths