After stroke and epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is the most common neurological condition affecting Canadians, and it’s also the neurological condition that most affects young adults. The MS Society of Canada reports that about 90,000 Canadians are currently living with MS and this country has among the highest rates of MS in the world.
MS is typically diagnosed when persons are between the ages of 20 and 40. Further, about twice as many women suffer from MS as men.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
MS is a persistent autoimmune disease characterized by reoccurring inflammation in the patient’s central nervous system. MS obstructs the delivery of messages in a person’s spinal cord by compromising myelin. Myelin is a substance which surrounds nerve fibers and it’s instrumental in the delivery of electrical impulses (‘signals’) between neurons. The brain, spinal cord and optic nerve are affected when myelin is compromised and signals are interrupted, and this creates problems in a person’s ability to control their movements and other bodily functions.
Multiple sclerosis is an episodic disability because persons with MS often experience ups and downs over time, in terms of their symptom severity and recovery. However, the degree and duration of disability during periods of attack can vary. In most cases, particularly during the early years of the disease, episodes of symptom onset are followed by intervals of general wellness.
The MS Society of Canada classifies MS into four types:
- Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) is the earliest form of MS, where a person has experienced one episode of neurological symptoms suggesting they may have the disease, but a definitive diagnosis has not yet been made.
- Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) involves unpredictable but clearly defined attacks (or relapses) of new or worsening symptoms followed by periods of full, or almost complete, recovery. Most people with RRMS eventually experience a period of progressive worsening of symptoms and fewer periods of recovery (see ‘secondary progressive’ MS).
- Secondary progressive MS (SPMS) is a period of progressive worsening of symptoms and fewer periods of recovery. Most people with RRMS eventually transition to SPMS.
- Primary progressive MS (PPMS) involves an increasing level of disability without clear relapses. Symptoms may stabilize at certain times and there may be temporary improvement but no periods of actual recovery.
Symptoms and Effects
Among the most common symptoms of MS are:
- Extreme fatigue
- Weakness or numbness in arms and/or legs
- Monocular visual loss
- Lack of coordination and muscle control
- Unsteady gait
- Double vision
- Slurred or slow speech (dysarthria)
- Cognitive impairments
- Problems with bladder and bowel function
Symptoms typically develop quickly and attacks usually peak within a few days and then resolve within several days or weeks. In the early years of the condition, symptoms often resolve completely, but after 5 to 15 years, symptom onset is slower, and symptoms are more persistent and abate less completely. This cycle often results in a pattern of slow deterioration, termed secondary progressive MS, and treatment of symptoms is generally less effective at this stage.
MS is generally not fatal and has little effect on a patient’s lifespan; however, MS causes varying degrees of persistent disability and impacts quality of life to varying degrees for about two thirds of persons with the disease. Approximately 20 percent of persons with MS are hugely impacted and become bedridden about 15 years after onset of the disease. Another 20 percent may require an ambulatory device such as a wheelchair or crutches. The remaining 60 percent of persons with MS are usually able to walk and move without assistance, but most suffer intermittent symptoms of differing severity.
Multiple sclerosis commonly has physical, emotional and financial effects for persons suffering from the disease and quality of life is correspondingly diminished, even if solely during the periods of symptom attack. Further, because these attacks fluctuate and cannot be predicted, many persons with MS cannot continue to work in their chosen field, if at all. Some may be able to work only in a limited capacity or in a job that can accommodate unexpected symptomatic periods. In addition to employment challenges, a person with debilitating symptoms may require institutionalization or need significant assistance with daily activities (such as getting dressed, making meals and household chores).
Canadians suffering with MS may apply for the Canadian Disability Tax Credit, which is a federal program intended to support persons living with the burden and additional costs brought on by a disability such as MS.
Also, a person with MS may qualify for long-term disability benefits under a disability insurance plan if their disability prevents them from performing the essential tasks in their job. In order to qualify for MS disability benefits, a claimant must first obtain a diagnosis from their doctor. In making a diagnosis, your doctor will typically perform several medical tests to rule out other conditions and identify MS; such as blood tests, an MRI scan, and extracting spinal fluid to test for abnormalities. Further, your doctor will need to assess the severity of your disability, in terms of its impact on a myriad of bodily functions, including brain function, vision, mental function, coordination and weakness of the limbs, bowel/bladder function, and so on. Your application for MS disability benefits must also include your doctor’s assessment of how your symptoms prevent you from performing the essential tasks in your job.
In early 2018, Health Canada approved a drug that may prove to significantly alleviate symptoms and reduce the progression of the disease for persons with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS). PPMS is one of the most debilitating forms of MS and involves a steady decrease in neurological function without periods of recovery. It is hoped that a clearer understanding of the cause of MS as well as continued advancement in treatments will result in continuing improvement in the outcome for persons suffering from MS.
If have been denied disability benefits and are suffering from MS or another neurological condition that prevents you from being able to work, call a knowledgeable disability lawyer at Dietrich Law to get help with resolving your denied claim.