MS Awareness Month

May 2, 2016

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

I hate my new glasses. I'm two days in, and I hate them. I am whining to anyone who will listen. I am probably becoming a royal pain in the behind to everyone around me, but I don't care. Maybe I should back up. I've had glasses since I was in Grade 3. I've really always liked wearing glasses because they improved my vision. I remember being amazed by the basement carpet at my parent's house. I thought it had just gotten worn. Nope, after I got glasses, suddenly the pattern in the carpet looked crisp and sharp again. Lately, I've been having trouble reading tiny writing, like the stuff on prescription pills and vials. I knew at my next optometrist appointment I'd need bifocals. My optometrist suggested progressives instead. So that is what I ordered. My optometrist told me it would take my vision about a week to adjust. The fitter told me it would take my eyes about a week to adjust. My wife told me it took her eyes about a week to adjust when she got progressives. My co-worker with progressives told me it took their eyes about a week to adjust. I am two days in. My vision sucks. I have no patience for not being able to see properly. I am annoyed, a little angry and feel betrayed by my eyeballs.

Visual disturbances are an effect of MS that don't get a lot of press. In fact, nearly any part of your body can feel like it is betraying you when you have MS. That is because Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the nervous system. In fact, MS is the most common neurological disorder in young adults. Every day, three more people in Canada are diagnosed with MS. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Canadians have Multiple Sclerosis. Women are more than three times as likely to develop MS as men. MS can cause loss of balance, impaired speech, extreme fatigue, double vision and paralysis.

May is Multiple Sclerosis awareness month. What is MS or multiple sclerosis? It is an unpredictable and often debilitating disease of the brain and spinal cord. Some of the long nerves in the brain and spinal cord have a covering called myelin. Remember when all phones were connected to the wall with a cord? Myelin works a like the plastic covering around the telephone cord. Without the insulating plastic cover, some of the signal that goes down the telephone wire would leak out. The voice on the phone would sound delayed, weakened, garbled or possibly not there at all. In MS, the body mistakenly attacks the insulating myelin sheath around some of the nerve fibers. So the signals from the brain to the body or body back to the brain get weaker, delayed, garbled or go missing altogether.

Since MS affects some myelin covers some of the time, this leads to one of the most fascinating and frustrating facets of the disease. The symptoms of MS can change and are unpredictable. The most common form of MS, relapsing and remitting MS, has well defined attacks followed by complete or partial recovery. It can go away and come back. And it can affect vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility. And this is not just that the disease affects different people in different ways! The same person can have different symptoms each attack. You can imagine how frustrating it would be to both worker and employer if a worker came to work one week in a wheel chair and then the next month she could walk. Then six months later she could still walk, but says she can't read her computer screen without magnification. And then she is fine. And then a year later she calls in sick for 3 weeks because she is too fatigued to leave the house. Unfortunately, since people with MS often don't look sick and they have symptoms that come and go, some confused employers treat an employee with MS unfairly.

Compared with big diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes, why should you care about MS? While it is true that MS isn't as common or as deadly as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, MS is the most common neurological disease affecting young adults in Canada. Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world. Within our country, Manitoba has one of the highest rates of MS in Canada. Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie, who heads the MS Clinic in Winnipeg, published a paper about MS prevalence in Manitoba in the January 2010 issue of Neurology. She concluded Manitoba has one of the highest prevalence rates of MS in the world. So, Multiple Sclerosis does affect a lot of people in our area. There are even more local connections to MS research. Dr. Mike Namaka, who grew up in Winnipegosis, is also an MS researcher at the Manitoba MS Clinic in Winnipeg. It's nice to see a Parkland prodigy working on a Manitoba problem.

I'm not just an interested health care professional when it comes to MS. I'm also on the local board of the Parkland-Northman Chapter of the MS Society. Over the years I've been involved with the MS Society, we have serviced the needs of people with MS from Riding Mountain all the way up to Thompson. And of course we've helped people right here in Dauphin. Money raised by the MS Society in Manitoba stays in Manitoba to help Manitobans with MS. Some of our fund raising also goes to research. Some of the most exciting research in Canada is here in Manitoba as well. The MESCAMS stem cell clinical research trial is happening in Winnipeg.

Some exciting news for the Parkland is Dr. James Marriott is coming to give a talk about MS research on Thursday, May 12. It will be at 7 pm at the Countryfest Community Cinema. To reserve your spot call Jaime Balak at our local MS Office at 204-622-2941 or email her at This is one of those rare opportunities to meet, listen to and ask questions of those people who are actually doing the research to help end MS.

Unlike people with MS, I'm sure my vision problems really will be over in a couple days. I guess the main reason I felt so betrayed is getting new glasses was always kind of magical in the past. I'd put on the new glasses and suddenly the trees were full of individual leaves, not just a great green mass. Those boats out on Lake Dauphin would suddenly have exactly 3 people fishing in them, even if they were a long way out. New glasses were always wondrous in the past. This whole taking a week to get used to progressives sure doesn't seem like progress to me. Or more likely, I have to learn some patience, like everyone around me says.

As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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