Most people being forced to live with an illness such as multiple sclerosis are bound to ask in those blackest of moments ‘why me?’ Despite my positive outlook on life, I certainly did a few years ago when I had several falls in one day.
I can still recall that awful day when, having taken yet another tumble, I swore out loud about ‘this ******* MS’ and, in pure frustration, hammered the floor with my good hand as I cried out ‘why me?’
Ok, so those dark emotional days are well behind me now, I have grown used to living with my MS. Looking back is something I do with pleasure, remembering the good times and my successes while forgetting the rest. Looking forward is full of anticipation and hope, while the present is for living every moment to the fullest that can be managed.
Now, the question ‘why me?’ is no longer asked. MS is an uninvited guest that is not going away. But I am still interested in how it got in. In other words, what caused it in me.
No single cause of MS has yet been identified but various sources reveal that scientists believe that the likelihood of contracting the illness is linked to four factors. These are: Immunologic, Genetic, Environmental and Infections.
Immunologic; It is well established that in MS the immune system malfunctions and attacks the central nervous system. Researchers know that the myelin sheath is directly affected, but they don’t know what triggers the immune system to attack the myelin.
Genetic: Several genes are believed to play a role in MS. The chance of developing MS is slightly higher if a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, has the disease. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF), if one parent has MS, the risk of their children getting the disease is estimated to be between two and five percent. Scientists believe that some people are born with a genetic susceptibility to react to certain, but as yet unknown, environmental agents. Maybe an autoimmune response is triggered when they encounter these agents.
Environmental: It is now well-known that MS is more predominant in countries that are further away from the equator and this has indicated that a lack of vitamin D may play a role. Vitamin D does benefit the function of the immune system. People who live near the equator are exposed to more sunlight. The more sunlight that skin receives, the more the body naturally produces the vitamin.
Infections: Researchers are considering the possibility that viruses and bacteria may cause MS. Viruses are known to cause inflammation and a breakdown of myelin (called demyelination). Therefore, it’s possible that a virus could trigger MS. Several viruses and bacteria are being investigated to determine if they’re involved. These include: measles, human herpes virus-6 and Epstein-Barr virus that causes glandular fever.
Ok, so how does all that affect me? I have no idea about the immunology but there was no-one in my family with MS, so a genetic cause can be discounted.
Of course, environmental factors could well play a part as from birth until my 63rd birthday I lived in the UK, first in the south-east and, for the last 23 years, further north in North Wales. The lack of sunlight in the UK, especially the further north you go, comes as no surprise, but University of Oxford researchers used NASA satellite data to quantify the decreasing levels of UV (ultraviolet) rays from the sun as you move north. Less UV means less vitamin D produced in the body. There are also concerns that worries about skin cancer mean people can cover up too much. New official advice stresses the need to strike a balance between healthy sun exposure and skin cancer risks.
I have already said, in a previous blog post http://50shadesofsun.com/?m=201508&paged=2, the poor British weather with almost constant grey skies, rain and strong winds – plus my desire to increase my vitamin D level – was the prime reason behind our move to Spain.
Finally, and for me the most telling factor, is infection. Of the infection listed as possible causes of MS, one was the Epstein-Barr virus that causes glandular fever and this I had in or about 1974. That year I was approaching my 22nd birthday.
When I was finally diagnosed with MS, 27 years later, the consultant neurologist told me that he had gone back through my medical records and found evidence of MS as far back as my mid-20s.
Hmm, glandular fever at 21, almost 22, and evidence of MS mid-20s. A clinical link may not be scientifically proven but, if you were me, would you need any further proof? I most certainly don’t!