Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Neurology Department currently delivers advanced care to more than 700 patients with multiple sclerosis. With two weekly clinics, the Department provides highly-specialized care to patients with different forms of the long-lasting, auto-immune disease which affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves in the eyes.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, can cause problems with vision, balance, muscle control, and other basic bodily functions. In MS, the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the fatty material – called myelin – that surrounds nerve cells. Without this outer shell, the nerves become damaged and scar tissue may form.
Dr. Dirk Deleu, Director of the MS program at HMC, explained that the damage to the nerves caused by MS means that the brain cannot send signals throughout the body correctly.
“With MS, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue. This immune system malfunctioning destroys the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord (myelin). Myelin can be compared to the insulation coating on electrical wires. When the protective myelin is damaged and nerve fiber is exposed, the messages that travel along that nerve may be slowed or blocked. The nerve may also become damaged itself,” said Dr. Deleu.
“Once the nerves are damaged in an individual affected by multiple sclerosis, the nerves will not work as they should. As a result, they may have symptoms like difficulty walking, feeling tired, muscle weakness or spasms, blurred or double vision, numbness and tingling, poor bladder or bowel control, pain, depression, and problems focusing or remembering,” added Dr. Deleu.
He noted that for individuals with the disease, symptoms can worsen with time, and living with MS can affect many aspects of their daily lives, including their health, well-being, relationships, and careers. According to Dr. Deleu, the exact cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown and it isn’t clear why MS develops in some people and not others but a combination of factors such as age, gender, family history, certain infections, climate, vitamin D deficiency, obesity, certain autoimmune diseases, and smoking are thought to be factors.
According to Dr. Deleu, MS is rarely fatal but could lead to complications such as muscle stiffness or spasms (spasticity), paralysis in the extremities, problems with the bladder, bowel, or sexual function, cognitive changes such as forgetfulness or mood swings, and depression. While there is no cure for MS, there are effective medications and therapies that modify the disease outcome. Dr. Deleu says treatment plans for MS are individualized and designed around the patient.
“Early diagnosis and treatment are important for MS. A neuro-inflammatory disorder like MS leaves a lot of lesions in the central nervous system and with every lesion there is a potential loss of function,” added Dr. Deleu.
Last month, in recognition of World MS Day on 30 May, HMC held a number of events designed to raise awareness about the invisible symptoms of MS and the impact the disease has on quality of life. The events were part of a global campaign titled ‘My Invisible MS’, which aimed to give a voice to those affected by MS.