YOUR LIFE YOUR HEALTH

‘It’s different every day’: Understanding multiple sclerosis and its prevalence in Utah

Mar 28, 2024, 4:49 PM | Updated: Mar 29, 2024, 7:23 am

“When I was first diagnosed, I was very angry,” she said. “You’re just sad. You’re angry. It just was that unknown.”

For 29 years, Gomez has lived with her MS, experiencing highs and lows, all while learning how to manage it with the help of medication, therapy and a good support system.

“It’s different every day. You just kind of don’t know what you’re getting each day,” she said.

MS is unpredictable and can affect everyone differently, said Dr. Timothy West, a neurologist with Intermountain Health.

“Multiple sclerosis is a condition that we develop in life where our immune system gets confused and instead of defending us, it actually attacks us,” he said. “That damage leads to scars, which is where it gets its name, ‘multiple scars.'”

While it’s not completely clear what causes multiple sclerosis, it’s believed that genetics and environmental factors likely play a role.

“The farther away from the equator you were born and raised actually matters,” West said. “Vitamin D we get from the sun, and it calms the immune system down.”

MS is also more common in those of northern European descent, and those who have been infected with Epstein-Barr virus.

“If you got mono as a kid, you’re at increased risk of getting MS,” West said.

Like what Gomez experienced, MS can cause numbness and tingling. Other symptoms may include vision loss, balance issues, pain, and fatigue.

“It’s a different kind of tired,” Gomez said. “Someone will say, ‘I’m so tired,’ and you kind of look at them like, ‘You have no idea.'”

Experts say early detection is key to successfully treating MS.

West said, “We can’t heal brain injury — not well. But we can prevent brain injury…the sooner you get diagnosed, the better your future is going to be and the better your prognosis is going to be.”

West said if you have a neurologic symptom that lasts for more than 24 hours, go see a doctor.

Though MS does not have a cure, West is optimistic about the advancements that have been made, allowing those living with multiple sclerosis to maintain a good quality of life.

“I haven’t given out a wheelchair in a very long time,” he said. “Our medicines do work.”

For more information on multiple sclerosis, visit intermountainhealth.org.

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‘It’s different every day’: Understanding multiple sclerosis and its prevalence in Utah