This guest series is published with express permission of the author and of Ania & Alyssa Splain You a Thing where it is also cross-posted.
The month of March is often associated with St. Patrick’s Day, the first tendrils of spring, Daylight Savings Time, and March Madness for collegiate basketball. March is also Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month and I’m here to talk about this invisible illness which affects 2.3 million people worldwide. My name is Kacee Cole and I was diagnosed with MS on Christmas Day 2013, just a hair over a month after my 27th birthday. I will begin with general information about the illness, some myths and facts, and finally wrap up with my personal story with this complicated, difficult disease.
Experts recognize four courses of Multiple Sclerosis: progressive-relapsing, secondary-progressive, primary-progressive, and relapsing-remitting. I personally have the last one which is the most common form of the illness with 85% of patients being diagnosed. Roughly 5% of patients are diagnosed with progressive-relapsing, 10% with primary-progressive, and 50% of those diagnosed with relapsing-remitting will develop secondary-progressive within 10 years of their initial diagnosis. Below is a breakdown of each type:
- Relapsing-Remitting: this is the most common disease course and is characterized by clearly defined attacks of new or increasing neurologic symptoms. These attacks – also called exacerbations, relapses, or flares – are followed by periods of partial or complete recovery (remissions). During remissions, all symptoms may disappear or some may continue and become permanent. Fortunately, there is no apparent progression of the disease during remission periods. At different times, RRMS can be further characterized as either active (meaning relapses and/or evidence of new activity on an MRI) or not active, as well as worsening (defined as an increase in disability over a certain period of time following a relapse) or not worsening.
- Primary-Progressive: this is characterized by worsening neurologic function (accumulation of disability) from the onset of symptoms without early relapses or remissions. PPMS can be further characterized at different points in time as either active or not active, as well as with progression or without progression.
- Secondary-Progressive: this form follows an initial relapsing-remitting course and most people diagnosed with RRMS will eventually transition to a secondary-progressive course in which there is a progressive worsening of neurologic function over time. SPMS can additionally be described at different points in time as active or not active as well as with progression or without progression.
- Progressive-Relapsing: PRMS refers to a pattern of relapses within primary-progressive MS. About five percent of MS patients have the progressive-relapsing form of the disease. PRMS is the least prevalent form of MS, however it’s still important to know the facts about this disease, especially if you have PPMS. This type of MS is known for worsening symptoms that progress over time.