Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune, inflammatory neurological disease of the central nervous system. In this disease, the immune system attacks multiple different myelin sheaths (the fat-based coating surrounding nerve fibers) throughout the central nervous system. These attack leads to inflammation and over time, widespread formation of scar tissue which is also known as sclerosis. Scar tissues impair signalling mechanism and conduction of nerve impulses which eventually lead to motor and sensory disturbance, vision problems as well as cognitive impairments.
If left untreated, Multiple Sclerosis may worsen quickly and sufferers are at risk of developing severe complications from brain atrophy and loss of physical abilities. Throughout the course of Multiple Sclerosis, patients may develop series of relapsing acute attack in which, with each subsequent attack, the sensory and motor impairment may or may not progressively worsen.
Multiple Sclerosis is a rare disease, affecting around 2.5 million people worldwide. In Malaysia, only 767 patients are reported to have this disease, with the majority of MS patients from the Malay community (59.4%), followed by the Indians (20.5%), the Chinese (16.6%) and the indegenous people (3.5%). MS seems to affect women more than men, with MS incidence ratio between the two at 5:1. It is also the leading non-traumatic debilitating condition of young adults, with the age range being from 19.1 to 38.9 years old.
The need for awareness on Multiple Sclerosis
The prevalence rate of the disease in Malaysia is said to be at 2.73 people for every 100,000 population but this figure may not reflect the true burden of the disease due to the general lack of awareness on the signs and symptoms of the disease and therefore, leads to underreporting. The lack of awareness and knowledge on the condition hinders people from considering Multiple Sclerosis as a possible explanation for their symptoms and therefore preventing them from seeking treatment. This is especially true the acute attack subsides, leading them into thinking that they have recovered from whatever it was that made them ill in the first place.
As such, this remains as one of the key factors to why there are delays in the making of diagnosis, which usually take months to years after the initial attack. Consultant Neurologist of Hospital Kuala Lumpur, Dr Shanthi Viswanathan, added that the challenge in making Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis is also due to the similarities of the condition with other diseases of the central nervous system. In addition, to make the diagnosis of the disease itself, an invasive lumbar puncture procedure would be needed as well as an MRI scan, which is only available in a number of government hospitals.
“Many MS patients are misdiagnosed as some of the signs can be vague or similar to other conditions. It is important to monitor and describe the types and patterns of symptoms in detail to your doctor or neurologist,” stated Dr Shanthi.
In conjunction with the World MS Day, Sanofi is launching “World vs MS”, an initiative to raise awareness around Multiple Sclerosis (MS), as well as to empower the patients to demand for a better quality of life through the right treatment options and education. Joining Dr Shanthi at the event was Quek Wee Ling, Genzyme Business Unit Head, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore of Sanofi, and Ms Nur Atiqah bt Samsudin, an MS patient.
In her speech at the Sheraton Hotel, Petaling Jaya, Dr Shanthi encouraged patients who are diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis to discuss the treatment options with their doctors, in order to maximise the effect of treatment and at the same time, maintain compliance to it. Current evidence suggests that early recognition and treatment with disease-modifying treatments (DMT) is important to avoid relapses and disability progression that significantly impacts the patient’s quality of life.
Realising how valuable early diagnosis and treatment is, Sanofi also launched a patient leaflet which will be distributed across hospitals that treat Multiple Sclerosis. The leaflet contains comprehensive infographic on the symptoms as well as symptoms checklist.
“We hope to make this leaflet more accessible to a wider patient base and aim to educate patients as well as their caregivers on how to better manage and understand MS. The public is also urged to seek medical help if they score 4 out of 5 in the MS symptoms checklist available in the leaflet”, said Quek Wee Ling.
Symptoms of the condition are unpredictable and vary greatly from one person to another. Therefore, adequate awareness and education on Multiple Sclerosis is needed to allow people to seek medical attention and benefit from early treatment.
Hello Health Group does not give medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.