Biking for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
I started biking about six years ago and have worked up from just a few miles to longer events. I rode recently in the Colorado BikeMS ride, the ride to benefit multiple sclerosis. As for many charity rides, bikers raise money in order to ride the event. In return, BikeMS treats riders VERY well. The Colorado ride was a two day event: Saturday was a ride from Denver to Fort Collins and Sunday was the return ride by a slightly different route. BikeMS has some easier and harder routes to accommodate riders who want a shorter (66 mile) or longer (up to 124 mi) adventure. It’s an easy sell with our Colorado weather and a ride next to the scenic Rocky Mountaans, but BikeMS has a reputation for great rides all across the country.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is not that common a disease:
– there are about 10,000 new cases each year – but many of the bikers knew someone with MS; some were riding with MS. Many years ago I worked with a friend and colleague in a neighboring lab who developed MS. Irene first required modest accommodations but progressed rapidly to a wheelchair, and eventually required constant care. She did not survive long. Thankfully, the MS Society and others have advanced knowledge and care for MS; there are now therapies and most patients live many years with MS.
Except for trauma, MS is the most common cause of disability in young adults; it strikes women more frequently than men and usually has an onset between the ages of 20 and 40. MS is more common in those of Northern European descent, but affects those of all racial and ethnic groups. About 1 in 3 MS patients will experience severe disability.
MS is diagnosed clinically based on symptoms.
Early symptoms of MS include:
• tingling, weakness or numbness in arms or legs
• double vision or blurred vision
• loss or balance or coordination.
Patients can have one or more symptoms. Often these symptoms will get better and then occur some time later. Underlying these symptoms are changes in nerves and in the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the rest of the body.
We still don’t actually know what causes MS, although it is known that MS represents an abnormal immune response that attacks and destroys myelin, the coating around certain types of nerves. Myelin allows nerves to send their electrical signals faster. As conduction through the nerves is disrupted and as the nerves degenerate, MS symptoms may relapse and return and progress in severity. Early diagnosis is good. The sooner medications are started, the better patients tend to do long term.
Medicines for MS are targeted at inflammation and the immune system. We call them “disease modifying therapies” because they not only improve patient symptoms, but also increase remissions and delay relapses. Early treatment appears to improve patient outcomes even many years later. As the BikeMS riders with MS showed, with modern treatment many patients can live normal lives even though they have MS.
If you are a biker, consider a BikeMS adventure (www.BikeMS.org). If not, consider supporting the cause and cheering for someone you know who lives with multiple sclerosis. And pray for the cure.