30 May 2024

Wollongong researcher sinks her teeth into fight against multiple sclerosis

| Zoe Cartwright
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University of Wollongong's Associate Professor Yasmine Probst

University of Wollongong’s Associate Professor Yasmine Probst received an MS diagnosis 20 years ago, and earlier this year she was appointed an MS Australia Senior Research Fellow. Photo: Michael Grey, UOW.

A multiple sclerosis diagnosis might not seem like something to celebrate, but this year’s World MS Day encourages people to think a little differently.

The theme for MS Day 2024 (Friday 31 May) is ‘My Diagnosis’, and advocates for accurate, early diagnosis of the condition – a cause close to University of Wollongong Associate Professor Yasmine Probst’s heart.

Yasmine was diagnosed with MS in her 20s, shortly after she presented to her GP with numbness in her legs.

“Thankfully my doctor wanted to get it tested straight away, was able to rule out other causes and came to the MS diagnosis within a short period of time,” she said.

“I have friends who haven’t known their diagnosis for what felt like years, and it’s really scary to have that uncertainty hanging over you.

“The time immediately after diagnosis is crucial to the person starting therapies and being able to maintain a quality of life and work out how they are going to manage life with a chronic condition.”

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Diagnosis can often be delayed by how differently MS presents from person to person.

Symptoms often seem unrelated on the surface, and may occur years apart.

Yasmine said in hindsight her first symptom was probably vision issues that presented in her teens.

“I went to an ophthalmologist; no one could figure it out; my optic nerve was fine and so it was business as usual,” she said.

“It’s not uncommon for people to work out their first symptom retrospectively.”

Yasmine’s diagnosis was 20 years ago, when far less was known about the disease, and there were fewer treatment options.

Thanks to lifestyle changes, medication and good luck she has gone on to become a dietitian, researcher, MS advocate and mother of three.

She said a diagnosis shouldn’t mean being put in a box, and that each person’s experience of the disease was unique.

“Having my three kids, seeing them grow and do well in their lives has been really amazing,” she said.

“Getting through pregnancy, birth and the early childhood years with MS was an eye opener, and different with each child.

“With MS, something happens hormonally during pregnancy so you feel amazing.

“A person living with MS is still a person.”

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A timely diagnosis means more treatment options, and Yasmine said things have changed significantly since she found out she had the condition.

She has been appointed an MS Australia Senior Research Fellow and will be part of a project to test lifestyle management strategies to help people living with MS to make positive changes to their eating patterns and exercise routines.

“The only thing I knew about MS when I was diagnosed was the MS Read-a-thon,” she said.

“Luckily I was trained as a dietitian and started to read about what lifestyle changes I could make straight away – most of them are the same things anyone would do to live a longer, healthier life.

“Things have changed substantially; medications have advanced; what we know about the disease has changed and how it’s managed has shifted substantially.”

Yasmine is part of the Wollongong May 50K campaign to raise money for MS research.

The campaign challenges participants to run, ride, walk or wheel 50 km over the month of May.

The Wollongong team has so far raised more than $4000. If you would like to contribute, head to: The May 50K – EatRight MS.

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