Nearly 7 million Australians know someone with multiple sclerosis (MS) yet research has revealed the disease is worryingly misunderstood. A Galaxy poll commissioned by MS Research Australia shows the majority of Australians don’t know what MS is and less than half can identify the early symptoms.
One-in-five believe everyone diagnosed with MS ends up in a wheelchair. This is not correct, says Dr Hamish Campbell, research development coordinator at MS Research Australia.
“It’s only a small minority of patients who’ll end up in a wheelchair,” Campbell said.
He says greater awareness of this complex disease is urgently needed.
“It’s concerning that despite many Australians knowing someone with MS, there is a lack of understanding,” he continued. “This disconnect is worrying on many levels, particularly the poor knowledge of the signs and symptoms, as early MS diagnosis can lead to better management and outcomes.”
In the past 15 years the number of medications to treat MS has tripled and research has shown that if people are diagnosed earlier the outcome is better because treatment delays the disease’s progression.
“Statistics show disability milestones are being reached almost eight years later on average,” Campbell said.
MS is an inflammatory neurological disease where the body attacks itself by damaging the protective insulation surrounding the nerve fibres (myelin) in the brain and spinal cord.
People with MS are more likely to be diagnosed in their early adult years, often a vital time for establishing a career and/or starting a family.
Approximately two people every day are diagnosed, with the number of Australians now living with MS estimated at 23,000.
Three out of four people diagnosed are women.
MS can be debilitating but there are many myths about the disease sufferer Mez Gallifuoco would like busted.
More than a third of Australians are unaware women with MS are still able to have children and only half (53 per cent) believe those living with MS could remain in employment, according to the national poll.
“These misconceptions weight heavily on those who are newly diagnosed,” said Gallifuoco.
She says because of the tremendous steps forward in treatment of the disease most living with MS are able to manage it.
“And most importantly positively improve our overall quality of living,” the 30-year-old said.
While significant process has been made in the battle against MS there is still a long way to go, said Campbell.
“We desperately need funds to keep that momentum up so we can really achieve our goal of freedom from MS,” Campbell said.
Symptoms of MS
- Muscle spasms.
- Weakness in the arms and legs.
- Poor coordination and balance.
- Heat sensitivity.
- Pins and needles.
- Visual disturbances.
- Bladder incontinence and constipation.
- Memory loss.
- Cognitive difficulties.