15 Tips for Living with Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease characterized by the destruction of the protective myelin sheath around nerves in the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. The progressive nerve disease afflicts roughly one million Americans. It has a predilection for women, affecting as many as four times more women than men.
A diagnosis of MS could potentially significantly decrease the quality of your life. To help, here are 15 tips for living your best life with MS.
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1. Make Sure You Get Quality Sleep
Adequate rest is crucial to our overall health. This is never truer than for individuals with MS, as not getting adequate rest has the potential to exacerbate the symptoms of MS. To make matters worse, individuals with MS have more sleep difficulties when compared to the general population.
Most doctors recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per night. To accomplish this, consider improving your “sleep hygiene.”
2. Pay Attention to Your Mental Health
Mood swings are not uncommon in individuals with MS. Unfortunately, those with MS have higher rates of anxiety disorders (up to 33 percent) and depression (33 percent to 50 percent).
If you are experiencing overwhelming anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor, as there are treatments — such as psychotherapy and antidepressant medications — that can help ease these symptoms. Plus, there are online mental health screening tools available that may be able to help you sort out this dilemma.
3. Quit Smoking
Since 1964, we have known that smoking is bad for your health. In fact, it increases your risk of heart disease and many different forms of cancer. Additionally, smoking not only increases your risk of developing MS but also directly accelerates the progression of MS.
A study by Iranian researchers concluded that smoking greater than 10 cigarettes per day increased the risk of progression from relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) to secondary-progressive MS (SPMS) as compared with non-smokers.
4. Pay Attention to Your Diet
While there is no recommended diet for MS per se, it would behoove those with the disease to subscribe to a nutritious heart-healthy diet rich in “fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein” and “avoid gaining weight.”
A recent Swedish study concluded that omega-3 fatty acids — healthy fats found in fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines — may be beneficial for MS. Another study concluded that a low-fat, plant-based diet improved the fatigue associated with MS.
5. Stay Active and on the Move
Everyone knows that regular exercise is beneficial to your health and the same is true if you have MS. You should strive for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
The benefits of regular exercise in MS patients may include:
- Improvements in strength, balance, and coordination;
- Keep you from feeling fatigued and/or depressed;
- Healthier bladder and bowel functions;
- Better sleep, and;
- Improved mood.
Low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, yoga, or tai chi, are best.
6. Invest in Mobility and Assistive Devices
The varied symptoms of MS can take a toll on your mobility. Investing in mobility aids and other tools can give you the best chance at preserving your independence. For instance, automobile adaptations, such as hand controls, may be able to keep you driving despite the progression of the disease.
Other devices such as braces, canes, walkers/rollators, wheelchairs, and scooters can help with walking and balance as well as prevent or reduce the risk of falls.
7. Stay Cool (But Not Too Cool!)
Individuals with MS seem to exhibit sensitivities to extremes in temperature. MS patients have reported worsening of symptoms when exposed to heat and high temperatures, which is referred to clinically as Uhthoff’s phenomenon.
It’s best to stay cool with air conditioning and/or fans in hot weather, cooling vests or wraps, and avoiding hot showers and baths as well as exposure to direct sunlight. By the same token, don’t forget to stay warm in cooler climates, as the same phenomenon may be observed.
Stress is a daily aspect of life. Plus, it is well established that too much of it can be detrimental to your health.
The same is true with MS, as excessive stress can worsen the symptoms of MS. As a result, stress management is crucial for the well-being of MS patients. As such, you should consider de-stressing techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, Pilates, or tai chi.
9. Maintain Meaningful Relationships with Friends and Family
Even in the face of a progressive and potentially debilitating disease such as MS, you should try to maintain close ties with friends and family. Surrounding yourself with people you love can have a positive effect not only on your physical but also on your emotional well-being.
Additionally, friends and family can provide a stabilizing force, as you embark on the not so stable journey of MS.
10. Join a Support Group
An MS support group can be extremely empowering as you learn to cope and live with the disease. It doesn’t matter if the group is in person or online, as there is something incredibly cathartic about sharing your deepest feelings with those experiencing the same thing as you.
A support group can also be a platform for exchanging new ideas and news on MS research as well as a springboard for activism.
11. Make Time for Leisure Activities
Most of us have a hobby that we make time for. A diagnosis of MS should not sideline you from this hobby, as leisure activities can contribute to your overall well-being and improve the quality of your life.
After all, just about every hobby or leisure activity can be adapted and personalized to suit your needs. You may even consider expanding your interests and taking on a new hobby.
12. Learn Everything You Can About MS and Stimulate Your Brain
Keeping abreast of the latest news and treatments for MS is not only fulfilling but also engages and stimulates your brain. As you may know, there are a multitude of myths surrounding MS and educating yourself will help dispel many of them. You should continue to engage in activities that are mentally challenging — such as crossword puzzles, sudoku, memory exercises, and reading — to keep your mental faculties sharp.
13. Assemble the Right Health Care Team
Today, there is a trend toward the multidisciplinary treatment of MS. A neurologist should head your team of MS specialists. Other supporting health care professionals may include a:
- Physical therapist;
- Occupational therapist;
- Social worker;
- Nutritionist, and;
- Speech-language pathologist.
The right health care can make the biggest difference as you take on this progressive disease.
14. Incorporate Complementary and Alternative Medicine
You will most likely have to take prescription medications to ease the symptoms of MS. However, the management of your MS should not end here.
You should consider incorporating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) techniques to your treatment regimen. Examples of CAM therapies include:
- Dietary supplements;
- Massage, and;
15. Take Medications as Directed
As prescription medications have the potential to ease the symptoms of MS, you should take all your medications as directed by your doctor.
Consider initiating automatic refills for all your prescription MS medications at your local pharmacy, as forgetting a dose of medication or missing a refill can have a detrimental effect on your health. Some pharmacies even provide mail-order or home delivery services.
Life after a diagnosis of MS can be challenging and frustrating. Your symptoms may wax and wane, causing you fits and preventing you from being involved in activities that enhance your quality of life.
Remember, early diagnosis and treatment of MS can give you the best shot at living your best life with this progressive disease.