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The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America designates this month as MS Awareness month. Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that afflicts more than 400,000 Americans. It damages and destroys the protective covering surrounding the nerves of the CNS, and potentially injures the nerves as well. The damage elicits reduced communication between the brain and nerve pathways, causing detrimental effects.

This unpredictable disease, with a still-unknown cause, is often disabling. No two people experience the exact same symptoms, and they can change and fluctuate throughout time. The more common symptoms include fatigue, walking difficulties, numbness, weakness, vision problems, vertigo, cognitive changes, emotional changes and more.

No single test can currently diagnose MS. A diagnosis hinders on physicians discovering evidence of damage in at least two separate areas of the CNS that occurred at least one month apart, all the while all other possible diagnoses are ruled out. Physicians perform a range of tests that evaluate mental, emotional and language functions, movement and coordination, balance, vision throughout the diagnosis process.

Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. The average age when symptoms arise is between 30 and 35 years. About 200 new multiple sclerosis cases are diagnosed each week.

Extra focus is shined upon multiple sclerosis during MS Awareness Week, March 5th-11th. Engaging and addressing the debilitating disease’s challenges is the week’s goal. Propelled by the National MS Society, the group aims to drive awareness and move toward long-term solutions.

During the week, the message is “Together We Are Stronger.” People are encouraged to share their MS stories on social media using the hashtag #WearestrongerthanMS. It’s a great opportunity to share breakthrough stories. For someone with MS, a breakthrough can be anything from being able to button your shirt in the morning, going to the supermarket, being able to continue your job and more. This social media effort not only pushes awareness but also connects those living with the disease.

Multiple sclerosis is tough, but headway is being made. Since the 1990s, long-term treatments and symptom-management therapies have become available, which makes the disease more controllable and comfortable.

Whether you are living with the disease or know someone who is, make sure you reach out and tell that story – because together we are stronger.