An Odd Correlation

I’ve never been a drinker. In college, I joined friends in ‘braving the waters’ before a party once, and it was quite an experience, but definitely not a pleasurable one. I did not care for the taste, nor how the loss of my faculties and altered state made me feel.

Being new to indulging, I clearly overindulged. And if the night weren’t bad enough, after finally getting to sleep, morning came and it was even more awful. I was told the reason I felt like death was because I was in the throes of a hangover. That was it for me. The only exception came years later when, just for kicks, I would sometimes have a sweet, fruity drink ‘with spirits’ while out to dinner.

Doing different tests

I share the aforementioned information to introduce an anomaly that life would ironically present when I turned 37 years old. The person who didn’t even like alcohol actually underwent field sobriety tests! Field sobriety tests are tests administered by law enforcement to assess a person’s physical and cognitive impairment when they’re suspected to be driving while intoxicated. Okay, I’m kidding.. in a way. I was not given a field sobriety test per se. Meaning I was not tested to see if I were driving under the influence of alcohol.

I was, however, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). And during my checkups, the types of testing I was asked to do were similar to ones that suspected intoxicated drivers might be asked to perform. As time went on, I understood there were some physical correlations.

MS can affect our movement and balance

One of the consequences of the over-consumption of alcohol is that it can affect our movement and balance. Therefore, two of the field sobriety tests administered for suspected drivers operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol are designed to check just that.

The driver may be asked to (1) stand with their feet together while holding their arms straight out to the side. (2) The driver may also be asked to walk a straight line heel to toe from point A to point B and back. An inebriated driver will more than likely find it difficult to do both and even more likely to stumble and/or fall with either or both tasks. Thus helping to confirm the officer’s suspicion.

MS is an autoimmune disease where the immune system scars the myelin, thus disrupting communication between the brain and the body. The damage from the disease can affect our gait, balance, and mobility.1 For me, it affected all three.

Monitoring my changes over time

During my checkups, two tasks my doctor would have me do were (1) stand with my feet together while holding my arms straight out to the side. This observation was for balance. And, (2) walk a straight line (not necessarily heel to toe) from point A to point B and back. This timed test was to monitor my speed (or lack thereof), gait, and mobility ease changes and challenges. My results were recorded to gauge the changes over time.

Early in my MS journey, I ‘passed’ said tests or rather, they weren’t too bad to get through. Over the years, the tests became ‘questionable’ and increasingly difficult. It definitely would have raised the officer’s brow. For drivers who ‘fail,’ the consequences can have dire legal effects. However, in my world, my ‘consequences’ for not faring well are concerning health-wise.

How my doctor uses the results

My doctor uses my results to concentrate on determining if or what treatment may be needed, whether the selected treatment is effective, requires adjustment or to be changed, to manage my symptoms, and to keep track of my disease course.

So, in closing, alcohol (particularly in excess) can affect the brain and can impact how we ‘work’ - and multiple sclerosis can, too. That’s the correlation. Somewhat of an odd correlation, I might say.

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