An incurable disease of the nervous system, multiple sclerosis, or MS, results from inflammation and scarring of the sheaths surrounding the nerve fibres of the central nervous system. The symptoms of the disease vary according to which nerves are affected. Characteristic symptoms include weakness or pins and needles in a limb. Pain in moving the eyes and deterioration in sight result when the optic nerve is affected. Vertigo and ataxia (poor balance) are also symptoms.

The first attack usually takes place between the ages of 20 and 40. A course of relapses, or attacks, and remissions over many years is the pattern of the disease. The degree of improvement after each attack diminishes over time. A few sufferers do not have any remission.

Long term results of the disease can be loss of the use of the lower limbs, slurred speech, loss of control over bladder and bowels and muscular tremors. Depression is a common side effect. However about 50 per cent of sufferers are only mildly affected and stay in almost complete remission.

MS affects about one in 2000 people. The cause is unknown and is the subject of much research. Orthodox medicine has no cure, although there are treatments which can help maintain bodily function. It has been shown that levels of certain fatty acids are lower in the bodies of MS sufferers but it is not known whether addition of these acids to the diet (found in sunflower, safflower and evening primrose oils) are helpful.

For advice and support the Multiple Sclerosis Society can be contacted. There are branches throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Yoga can stimulate the nervous system and relax constricted muscles, stimulating the use of affected limbs. Massage also helps to maintain muscle tone. It is advisable to cut alcohol and stimulants such as tea and coffee from the diet and to stop smoking, avoiding passive smoking also. Since depression often affects sufferers, coming to terms with the limitations which may be imposed by the disease is important.


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