Home Health news My hen do ‘hangover’ turned out to be warning sign of an incurable disorder – I ended up in hospital days before my wedding

My hen do ‘hangover’ turned out to be warning sign of an incurable disorder – I ended up in hospital days before my wedding

by Editor

A bride has told how her horror ‘hangover’ ended up being a sign of MS.

Emily McColgan-Upfold, from Northern Ireland, found herself struggling to bend down the day after her hen-do in March 2023.

Understandably, she assumed that she was experiencing nothing more than a few aches from the night before.

But over the next few weeks and months, the 30-year-old’s strength, balance, vision, hearing and speech rapidly deteriorated.

Demanding answers over the cause of her bizarre symptoms, Mrs McColgan-Upfold, who works in education, sought medical help. 

Emily McColgan-Upfold, from Northern Ireland , found herself struggling to bend down the day after her hen-do in March 2023

Emily McColgan-Upfold, from Northern Ireland , found herself struggling to bend down the day after her hen-do in March 2023

Then just three days before she was due to marry her partner of 11 years, Stephen, in May, concerned medics rushed her in for an emergency MRI.

This left the bride-to-be’s wedding day in tatters as she nervously awaited the results.

Her wedding to Stephen went ahead as planned although Mrs McColgan-Upfold was ‘anxious  about falling’ and ‘couldn’t really walk steadily’.

Her results, telling her that she had MS, came just days after tying the knot, while she was at the airport about to fly off on honeymoon to Greece.

Recalling the moment, Mrs McColgan-Upfold told MailOnline: ‘I cried and completely broke down.

WHAT IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS? 

Multiple sclerosis (known as MS) is a condition in which the immune system attacks the body and causes nerve damage to the brain and spinal cord.

It is an incurable, lifelong condition. Symptoms can be mild in some, and in others more extreme causing severe disability.

MS affects 2.3 million people worldwide – including around one million in the US, and 100,000 in the UK.

It is more than twice as common in women as it is in men. A person is usually diagnosed in their 20s and 30s.

The condition is more commonly diagnosed in people of European ancestry. 

The cause isn’t clear. There may be genes associated with it, but it is not directly hereditary. Smoking and low vitamin D levels are also linked to MS. 

Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty walking, vision problems, bladder problems, numbness or tingling, muscle stiffness and spasms, problems with balance and co-ordination, and problems with thinking, learning and planning.

The majority of sufferers will have episodes of symptoms which go away and come back, while some have ones which get gradually worse over time.

Symptoms can be managed with medication and therapy.

The condition shortens the average life expectancy by around five to 10 years.

‘I’m sure people were looking at me, but it was as if time and space had ceased to exist.

‘They told me I had enhanced lesions on my brain and spinal cord and demyelination, which was most likely MS.

‘I felt like my whole world had just collapsed.’

MS is a neurological condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including the problems Mrs McColgan-Upfold suffered before her diagnosis. 

With MS, the immune system goes haywire and mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath in the brain and spinal cord. 

The NHS advice page states: ‘This is the layer that surrounds your nerves, protecting them and helping electrical signals travel from the brain to the rest of the body.

‘Attacks cause the myelin sheath to become inflamed in small patches, which can be seen on an MRI scan. 

‘These patches of inflammation can disrupt messages travelling along the nerves. It can slow them down, jumble them, send them the wrong way, or stop them getting through completely.’

Even before diagnosis, the worrying symptoms tarnished what was supposed to be one of the happiest days of Mrs McColgan-Upfold’s life.

‘Our wedding day was supposed to be such a special, happy day, but it had such an ominous grey cloud hanging over it,’ she said. 

‘I thought I’d be more excited and giddy with nerves, but instead, I was very aware of not giving it away that I was in pain and exhausted.

‘I had bad muscle weakness due to the numbness, so I was anxious about falling and I struggled to get into my dress, so my mum had to help me.

‘I [also] couldn’t really walk steadily or hold anything too heavy in my left hand, I had migraines and dizziness on and off and had constant back, hip, and leg pain; and I struggled with my hearing and vision.’

Mrs McColgan-Upfold said the ordeal has now left her looking back on her big day with ‘mixed feelings’. 

‘I just wish I could have felt the way I thought I would, and I feel sad for the girl who was scared of what was to come,’ she said. 

Determined to enjoy her honeymoon in Greece, Mrs McColgan-Upfold waited until she was home before undergoing further tests to decide on her treatment options.

While expecting to start treatment for MS soon, Mrs McColgan-Upfold has also made changes to her lifestyle to help with the pain the condition causes including cold water swimming and ice baths.

She has also started an Instagram account to document the highs and lows of her journey.

‘If you asked me six months ago what my future would look like, I’d have said bedbound or in a wheelchair with no hopes or dreams,’ she said. 

‘An MS diagnosis brings with it a lot of uncertainty. I will never know if I’ll relapse again or if my disease will progress, but I have learned we shouldn’t really worry about things out of our control.

Understandably, she assumed that she was experiencing nothing more than a few aches from the night before

Understandably, she assumed that she was experiencing nothing more than a few aches from the night before

‘Yes, things might take me a little longer, sometimes the house won’t be as tidy as it used to be but living with MS is just that, living.’

Mrs McColgan-Upfold still manages to enjoy life despite occasionally struggling with activities she used to perform without a second thought.  

‘There are, of course, times I feel sad, especially when there are things I used to be able to do with ease that are now a struggle, such as putting my shoes on, open bottles and jars, cook or prepare a meal and clean my house,’ she said.

‘But I choose every day to wake up and fight back at MS and to do things that make me happy. The future for me is hopeful.’

Mrs McColgan-Upfold said she’s hopeful that research will help MS sufferers in the future and plans to help raise awareness for people with the disease. 

‘I want to continue raising awareness for MS and building a community of chronic illness warriors that uplift and support each other through the good times and the hard times,’ she said. 

‘When I was first diagnosed, I went straight to Google and the images of elderly people in wheelchairs, the horror stories of falling and choking, and discovering the average lifespan of 40 years post-diagnosis sent me spiralling into a dark place where I had given up.

‘But if you look, you will find that there are hundreds if not thousands of MS warriors online choosing to find joy every day, choosing to fight back at the stigma, and choosing to keep going despite all the odds.

‘They helped me realise that MS doesn’t have to be as bad as a Google search tells you it will be. We didn’t choose to have MS, but we can choose how we respond to it.’

But just three days after tying the knot, while at the airport shopping for sun cream for her honeymoon, she was handed the devastating diagnosis of multiple sclerosis

But just three days after tying the knot, while at the airport shopping for sun cream for her honeymoon, she was handed the devastating diagnosis of multiple sclerosis

Mrs McColgan-Upfold hopes other people diagnosed with MS keep in mind it’s not the end. 

‘For people who have MS or have recently been diagnosed with MS I would love them to know that MS is of course a life-changing diagnosis but it doesn’t have to be life-ending,’ she said.

‘It certainly doesn’t have to be the end of your hopes and dreams.’

Scientists are still trying to unpick exactly what triggers MS.

It is currently suspected to be caused by a combination of genetics and an outside factor or factors.

Theories include a lack of vitamin D, exposure to smoking, teenage obesity and a consequence of viral infections.

For reasons experts don’t yet understand, women are two to three times more likely to develop MS than men.

MS typically develops when people between their 20s and 40s, though it can strike at any age. 

There is no cure and treatments instead focus on controlling and easing MS’s numerous symptoms as well as slowing its progression, if this is possible.

Treatment depends on the type of MS a patient has.

Relapsing remitting MS is the most common type, accounting for 8 to 9 out of every 10 cases.

Someone with this type of MS can have episodes where new or worsening MS symptoms return in intermittent bursts. Periods between relapses, which can last years in some cases are called remission.

The other type of MS is called primary progressive. In this type, there are no relapses or periods of remission, symptoms just get progressively worse. 

People with relapsing remitting MS can also go to develop the progressive form of the condition, this is called secondary progressive MS. 

Specific MS treatments, which includes both drugs and therapies, varies by individual depending on their symptoms and the specific nature of their condition.

Medicines designed to reduce the frequency or severity of relapses, as well as potentially slowing down the progression of MS, are divided into two broad types. 

First line treatments are those which are less effective overall but have fewer, potentially debilitating, side effects.

Second line treatments are the opposite, more effective but with higher risk of suffering powerful side effects. 

These treatments are typically only given to people with relapsing remitting MS as they don’t typically benefit people with the progressive form who still suffer the side effects regardless. 

 An estimated 130,000 people in the UK have MS according to charity MS Society UK, with 7,000 people diagnosed each year.

About 1milion Americans are also thought to have MS.

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