MS and Seasonality

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Recently there has been a flurry of high profile news releases regarding the optimistic results of Stem Cell MS trials – and some of the reported results do indeed appear quite remarkable. An episode of the BBC’s Panorama brought these to the attention of a much wider audience – and increased awareness of the condition (albeit focussing on the more severe end of the spectrum): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06ss17g

But it was a much smaller study last year that has caught my attention: an investigation into the seasonality of MS relapses and their potential link to melatonin levels in the body: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/melatonin-linked-to-seasonal-relapses-of-multiple-sclerosis/

As I struggled for years to get a diagnosis of my condition, one of the consolations I now have is a detailed list of when I suffered “relapses”, and how long they lasted. These dates show quite an amazing pattern. I have written about this before –  https://cyclingwithms.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/october-h-ill-season/ – but my relapse of the last few days prompts me to re-visit again.

I list below the dates that I have been “bedbound” (or too ill to work) by (apparently MS-based) symptoms – and can’t believe that these can just be coincidence?

2012 – 16th March to 20th March

2013 – 18th March to 30th March

2014 – 10th March to 23rd March

2015 – 22nd March to 28th March

2016 – 19th March to 23rd March

 

2012 – 22nd October to 27th October

2013 – 8th, 9th, 14th, 18th, 19th October

2014 – 13th October to 19th October

2015 – 14th October to 20th October

I do believe that there must be something “temporal” that is causing these patterns – whether it’s a change in temperature? daylight hours and their association with Vitamin D levels? or, more indirectly, the emergence of a new season’s set of bugs and germs?

The frustration is that I can almost predict the onset of a relapse (I, in fact, did so in the blog referenced above as, having predicted it, lo and behold, I was ill in bed 10 days later). I have shared these thoughts with my consultant, but, despite this, modern science can’t yet identify the physical/chemical/neurological markers that are causing these bouts – and so can’t take the steps to modify or reduce them (let alone cure them).

Roll on Summer.

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Footnote 1: Interesting to read the following extract from Roy Swank’s book on Multiple Sclerosis: “Marked changes in the temperature will be followed within a week by deepening fatigue and weakness in many patients. For this reason, in the north temperate zone, we see many patients in October and again in April-May who complain of fatigue and weakness. The symptoms last 2-4 weeks then disappear.”

Footnote 2: Remarkably Australian researchers showed that peak MS relapse rates are indeed statistically most likely to occur in the Northern Hemisphere’s early Spring – and they even gave an exact date: 7th March (looks like I’m a week or two late!) A remarkable set of data though. The current consensus is that this is linked to a patient’s Vitamin D levels (which correlate to sunlight exposure) – although scientists are aware that “reverse causalities” may be at play here: a new set of seasonal bugs/illnesses (which can trigger relapses) might just be driving patients indoors, which would lower their Vitamin D readings but only as a secondary indicator (rather than the cause) of their relapses. Interestingly the same research suggests that October is the least likely time of year for MS relapses – which clearly goes very much against the dates that I have recorded above. Fascinating stuff though -watch this space!

Footnote 3: I add this on the 13th day of the following October. I’m just spending my 6th day of the month sick in bed – buzzing with pins and needles, exhaustion and muscle ache. The predictability of this bout makes it no more bearable. I wonder if patients and scientists of the future may re-read these accounts and be amazed at our naivety once the true cause has long been discovered….

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3 thoughts on “MS and Seasonality

  1. Interesting post. There’s certainly still so much to learn about MS. I just read in The Times about the increased cases of MS in migrants in the Uk compared to rates of the disease in their place of birth. More evidence of the environmental factors of the disease.
    Hope you’re starting to feel a little better.
    http://www.oneineverycolour.co.uk

    Like

  2. Pingback: Pre-truths. The eve of March | Cycling with MS

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