Dr. François Grand’Maison
Neurologist , Charles LeMoyne Hospital, Université de Sherbrooke and Director, Neuro Rive-Sud MS Clinic
Dr. Heather J. MacLean
Assistant Professor of Neurology, University of Ottawa, MS Specialist,
The Ottawa Hospital
Living with and managing multiple sclerosis (MS) today is a whole different landscape than it was just 30 years ago.
Today, Canadians with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) can realistically hope to live a life where their disease is well-managed and their quality of life is kept high. Doing so, however, requires a thorough understanding of their own individual disease, its symptoms, and the network of support available to help them manage their journey.
Around 90,000 Canadians live with multiple sclerosis (MS), one of the highest rates in the world, and the majority of them are diagnosed with RRMS. MS is a chronic autoimmune disease of unknown cause in which the body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheaths protecting its own nerve fibres. These attacks cause inflammation and can damage the myelin, which leads to changes in the way signals travel down the nerve. When this happens, a patient can experience a variety of symptoms. In RRMS, this period of time where a person exhibits a relatively sudden onset of symptoms is referred to as a relapse or flare-up and can last weeks or months. The symptoms can include vision problems, lack of coordination, and cognitive impairment. Afterwards, if the damage is substantial and if scars replace the myelin, the nerve signals may be completely disrupted and the nerve fibres may be damaged.
There are a number of things within a patient’s control that they can do to optimize their health […] Nutrition and exercise are recommended strategies to support health and may help improve quality of life.
Each relapse runs a risk of permanent damage
“Many patients are left with residual symptoms after their relapses and disability accumulates over time,” says Dr. Heather J. MacLean, Assistant Professor of Neurology, University of Ottawa, MS Specialist, The Ottawa Hospital. “It is important to understand that each incidence of relapse presents the chance to cause damage.”
For people living with MS, the ability to manage their disease is central to their quality of life, their sense of stability, and their plans for the future. “I’ve been practising for 35 years,” says Dr. François Grand’Maison, Neurologist, Charles LeMoyne Hospital, Université de Sherbrooke and Director, Neuro Rive-Sud MS Clinic. “I saw the era before treatment and after treatment, and it’s completely different. In the 90’s there were very few MS clinics and what neurologists could do was quite limited. Of course, there was treatment of symptoms, what we call symptomatic management. However, today, people living with MS can feel empowered to choose from the many therapeutic options available to them that will help meet their treatment goals.”
“More and more I see patients coming in to ask me if I’m sure they have MS,” adds Dr. Grand’Maison. “They’ll say they’ve been almost 10 years without a relapse and that their MRI is completely stable. I hear this quite a bit.”
The keys to success: a healthy lifestyle, a watchful eye, and a strong support network
Still, even with all the advancements in care, successfully managing RRMS hinges on the patients themselves communicating openly with their health care team about their evolving symptoms, their lifestyle, and their personal treatment goals. The network of support for Canadians with MS is broad, but it’s important that the person living with MS be an active participant in their own care.
“There are a number of things within a patient’s control that they can do to optimize their health,” says Dr. MacLean. “Nutrition and exercise are recommended strategies to support health and may help improve quality of life.”
MS is a complex disease and there are a lot of moving parts to its management, so Canadians are fortunate to have access to a world-class support network through organizations like the MS Society of Canada. “The MS Society of Canada can share so much information on everything from diagnosis to treatment,” says Dr. Grand’Maison. “It’s a great resource for support groups as well as information on ongoing research.”
This article was made possible with support from a research-based pharmaceutical company.