What is Multiple Sclerosis and ‘MS fatigue?’

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is the most widespread neurological condition disabling adults

(Editor’s Note: March is National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month, with March 10-16 designated as National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week)

March 13, 2019 — During our latest Multiple Sclerosis (MS) support group meeting, one member, Sue, described MS fatigue. Before I share with you her description, I will give you the short version of what MS is.

Your body is regulated by your central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is made of the brain and spinal cord. Sensory nerves travel to your brain. What you see, hear, feel, smell and touch use the CNS. Once a sensory nerve signal reaches the brain a response via a motor nerve is activated.

For example: If you touch a hot stove, the sensory nerve ending in your finger sends a message to the brain. The brain analyzes the input and responds with a message through the motor nerves and you move your finger. 

The nerves are protected with a myelin sheath similar to the insulation on electric extension cords. MS is an auto immune disease, which means it is caused by our own immune system. MS attacks the myelin coverings of the nerves. This causes scars often referred to as “lesions.”

Nerves affected by these scars make communication to and from the brain disjointed or not at all. If your extension cord gets damaged you can buy a new one; if our nerves get damaged, they are ineffective transfers of information.

Sue describes MS fatigue, one of the most common conditions of MS, as “Our brains steering messages around pot holes in our brains.” When the area of the brain responsible for reading has lesions, or potholes, the brain will work harder to interpret the words on the page. This extra brain activity requires more energy and is tiring.

My fatigue theory is related to the shortage of muscle stimulation by motor nerves. You and I have an equal number of muscle fibers. Each muscle in our legs has many nerve stimulating junctions to contract muscles for movement. When you walk, 100 percent of the muscle needed to walk is engaged through nerve stimulation.

Lesions in the brain of a person with MS may disrupt the cycle. If only 50 percent of the muscles get stimulated, the MS person will need to work harder and tire sooner.

If all five of your sensory nerve endings are affected, imagine how difficult and tiring it is to find the right pathway for the seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching we do every day.

A person with MS has no visible sign of disability. The scars and lesions I have described are located on nerves. Accident victims and soldiers using handicapped parking spaces usually have their disability recognized.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is the most widespread neurological condition disabling adults.

Even if there are no outward signs of disability, the MS fatigue can make daily life challenging.

If you are someone with MS in the Siuslaw Region, the Florence Self-Help Group meets the second Friday of each month, beginning at 1 p.m., at the Florence Senior Center, 1570 Kingwood Street.

 For more information, contact me at [email protected] or the Oregon Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at 1-800-344-4867.


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