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Sunday, March 29, 2009

"La Voz Nueva" - Has a message (Tiene un mensaje)

Colorado Link to Multiple Sclerosis
posted 3-25-2009
Reporter: Ernest Gurule - La Voz Nueva

Before the end of the week, more than two hundred patients in cities and towns across the United States will be told by their physicians that the cause of the symptoms they’ve been complaining about is MS, multiple sclerosis. In places like Colorado, there will be more patients hearing this diagnosis than in low altitude, warm weather states. And so far, no one knows why.

MS is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system (CNS), that is, the brain and spinal cord. According to the website, it is a disease of the “white matter” tissue. The white matter is made up of nerve fibers, which are responsible for transmitting communication signals both internally within the CNS and the nerves supplying the rest of the body. MS causes muscle weakness, a tingling or numbness, loss of balance and blurred or double vision.

In Colorado, the number of MS cases is estimated at around 7,200, a number that could be grossly inaccurate. “When it is diagnosed, doctors don’t have to report it to the health department,” said Diane Williams, President of the National MS Society. Theoretically, the true number of MS patients in the state could be more than fourteen thousand.

The causes of MS are unknown. Researchers say it could be hereditary, environmental or even geographic. It may be as simple as an inherited gene that causes the illness. It may also be connected to a still undetermined environmental factor. And, geography is one of the more puzzling elements to this medical equation.

MS is not uncommon in Scotland, Scandinavian and Northern Europe. On the other hand, MS is rarely found in Africa or Japan. But African-Americans and Japanese-Americans can be victims of this illness. Another curiosity of MS is that its rates decrease dramatically the closer you get to an equatorial climate.

In diagnosing MS, a patient’s medical history is examined. But it may also take a neurological checkup, blood tests, an MRI or even a spinal tap. Research, including four studies that have taken place in Colorado, is making a dent in unraveling the mystery of this illness. “We’ve made the most progress in the last fifteen years,” said Williams. “Specific medications have been developed that can treat or even alter the course of the disease.” In fact, people now can choose between which medicines they want, depending on which works best for them.

But despite the progress that is being made, there are still huge and mysterious questions about MS that doctors are unable to answer. Included among them are why 73 percent of all MS victims in the U.S. are women or why men tend to be diagnosed later but generally have more severe cases.

MS also has a unique unpredictability. Some people, for example, say they can’t tell from day to day or week to week how the disease will affect them. There are some days when they say they’re too weak to get out of bed or even to hold their child. Then there are other times when symptoms go away for weeks or months at a time and then suddenly return.

One thing that MS isn’t is an equal opportunity disease. According to MS researchers, Whites are twice as likely to contract this illness as Latinos or African-Americans. However, with ten thousand new cases of MS expected to hit Americans this year, no one can be entirely worry free about getting it.

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