Nebraskans are experiencing fewer diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) than the national average according to a new Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association Health of America study.

MS cases between 2015 and 2018 in the state were fairly flat with 2.8 claimants per 1,000 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE) members.

“We don’t know what causes MS,” Dr. Debra Esser, BCBSNE chief medical officer said. “MS usually starts with a single episode of central nervous system dysfunction like vision loss or blurring, double vision, facial numbness or vertigo that develop over a few hours or days and then gradually resolves then repeats.”

MS is a life-long disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the body’s ability to send neurological signals within and between the brain and other parts of the body. MS symptoms vary widely and often include progressive physical and cognitive decline. The cause of MS is not known and there is no cure yet. The Food and Drug Administration has approved medications that have shown to slow the disease course and progression.

Fifty percent of the people living with MS are women and the average age is 49.

In contrast, nationally, MS diagnosis rates have increased by four percent from 2014 to 2017. MS cases are higher in the northeast. Individuals with MS are more likely to experience more chronic conditions than the overall population. They are three times more likely to have behavioral health conditions, including major depression and substance abuse disorder.

Twenty-three percent of Nebraskans have at lease one chronic condition and 18 percent have mental health diagnosis along with MS. About 1,400 BCBSNE members are living with MS.

“I think what this tells me is that it is important for patients with MS to regularly see their doctor and take their medications appropriately.” Esser said. “Don’t be afraid to discuss your feelings with your physician. Depression along with any chronic disease can make the future seem not as bright. Make sure you are taking advantage of treatment options available for depression.”