Imagine a young man or woman, as young as 20 years old, struck by an immunity disease and facing the possibility of a disability to talk, walk and live normally within few years. That is the tragedy of multiple sclerosis (MS) if left untreated.
Out of all points and arguments brought up among the audience at an event held to raise awareness about MS, all the experts were most keen to stress upon the fact that although Egypt has one of the lowest rates and number of MS cases, it remains a trauma that deprives extremely young people from leading a fruitful, healthy normal life.
In Egypt, the MS chapter of the Egyptian Society of Neurology celebrated World Multiple Sclerosis Day by highlighting the latest country-specific statistics, mentioning the latest breakthroughs in medications and listing the challenges.
Ain Shams University Professor of Neurology Dr Hany Aref shed some light on the disease: "In MS, the autoimmune system attacks its own tissues, eventually destroying a fatty substance that protects nerve fibres in the brain and the spinal cord."
He added that the life of the person suffering from MS could be normal if doctors constantly supervise the disease and if the right medications are given. Otherwise, if the person is careless regarding treatment, the condition eventually could destroy the body and deprive the patient from the ability to talk, walk or write.
According to the statistics provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO), women are twice as likely to develop MS and, generally for every 100,000 person worldwide, 30 are affected by the disease.
In Egypt the most recent related study was conducted in 2008. It shows that MS cases are 1.4 percent of all neurological diseases. The approximate total figure of patients in Egypt is around 50,000.
MS is usually detected at a very early age, affecting those between the ages of 20 - 40 in 70 percent of the cases.
In addition to constant medical monitoring and taking medications prescribed by doctors, Cairo University Professor of Neurology Dr Sherif Hamdy talked to Ahram Online about lifestyle changes that an MS patient needs to take into consideration, including:
· Eating healthy, with a diet rich in sunflower oil, vegetables and fruits and minimising saturated fats
· Ensuring a good intake of vitamin D
· Limiting exposure to heat - even showers should not be hot
· Avoiding different kinds of stresses
· Maintaining a state of peace of mind and avoiding exhaustion
The treatment of the disease was addressed by Ain Shams University Professor of Neurology, Dr Magd Zakaria, who said that although the causes of the disease are still shrouded in mystery, and despite of the fact that to date there is no known full cure, the course of the disease can be greatly modified and, likewise, the symptoms can be greatly managed if the right treatment is given.
He highlighted a new oral medication approved by the FDA in 2010 as a breakthrough. Research shows that if taken daily, this medicine decreases the relapse up to 50 percent and the probability of further deterioration is cut by a third in comparison to the traditional treatment of beta interferon injections.
The challenges faced by those in the field were listed as follows:
There is still a need to raise awareness regarding MS, as early diagnosis is very important and unfortunately symptoms, which could come in the form of a stutter, exhaustion, disturbed vision or weakness or a tingle in the limbs, are confused with other causes.
Providing the financial support for obtaining this rather expensive medication, since health insurance usually covers no more than 50 percent of the cost.
There is abundance of MRI facilities in the capital and main governorates, but rural areas still need more.
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