Multiple Sclerosis is defined as a chronic, typically progressive disease involving damage to the sheaths of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms may include numbness, impairment of speech and of muscular coordination, blurred vision and severe fatigue. There is currently no cure for this debilitating illness, though there are said to be a number of disease-modifying drugs that can slow the progression of MS.
First it is important to take note that there a number of different types (or stages) of multiple sclerosis:
RRMS – Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis
This is the most common form of multiple sclerosis whereupon people develop symptoms that respond to treatment, and then resolve. The development of symptoms is often referred to as an exacerbation of the disease. Episodes of remission may last for several weeks to several years.
SPMS – Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis
Diagnosed when the problems caused by exacerbation do not fully resolve during a remission, often occurring in patients that were initially diagnosed with RRMS.
PPMS – Primary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis
Progresses over time, without episodes of remission or improvement of symptoms
PRMS – Progressive-Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis
This is identified in patients experiencing escalating symptoms over time, as well as intermittent episodes of remission.
Take careful note that if you’re not sure someone you love is suffering from symptoms of multiple sclerosis, watch out for early signs. Symptoms of MS vary widely and the various forms of MS sometimes include different symptoms. It’s not necessarily possible to predict how the disease will present itself or progress in any one person.
1. People with MS often experience vision problems first. Symptoms may include blurred or double vision, color distortions and a condition called optic neuritis, which causes eye pain and rapid loss of vision.
As with many diagnosed diseases, it can be difficult for the patient on many levels. It can also be difficult for friends and family that are trying to assist in the medical care of the patient…
2. Diet is always a good place to start. There is no specific diet dedicated to the symptoms of MS but according to neurologist Mary Rensel, MD, staff neurologist at the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, multiple sclerosis is an inflammatory condition. She recommends an anti-inflammatory diet including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy oils.
Further research suggests a diet rich in omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. You can find these healthy fats in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, plant-based oils, and flaxseed. In accordance with a review of MS alternative therapeutic approaches published in the journal Expert Review of Clinical Immunology, diets that are low-fat but include omega-3 fatty acids hold promise as a way to manage MS symptoms.
3. About sixty three percent of people with MS experience pain, according to a 2013 report in the journal Pain. Accordingly, this study found that headache and neuropathic (nerve) pain in the extremities are the most common types of pain that patients experience, affecting 43 percent and 26 percent of people, respectively.
There is a lesser known, least common type of MS pain in the face known as trigeminal neuralgia which is a kind of sharp and stabbing pain in the face that originates from damage to the trigeminal nerve – the nerve responsible for facial motor functions and sensations. It is sometimes confused with dental pain.
General pain, including headaches, muscle pain, and chronic back or other musculoskeletal pain and otherwise specific pain syndromes, are common symptoms with MS.
4. It is stated that once diagnosis of multiple sclerosis has been confirmed, disease-modifying therapy is often recommended. Accordingly, this therapy may decrease the number of exacerbations that a patient experiences or decrease the severity of an exacerbation.
There are several types of modification drugs available to assist with the symptoms of MS, but keep in mind that there are always side effects.
5. Depression is a common issue among those suffering from multiple sclerosis, whether it be a side effect of a medication or otherwise just knowing that they are dealing with this disease, and will continue to deal with it for the rest of their lives.
There are many social, psychological and environmental risk factors for developing depression and there can be some differences in symptoms of depression depending on age, gender and ethnicity. Remember that depression is only diagnosed clinically in that there are not laboratory tests or X-rays for depression. It is crucial to see a health professional as soon as you notice symptoms of depression in your loved one. This side effect in itself can become quite another debilitating illness.
6. Make sure to remember to get your loved one out in the sun. According to Dr. Rensel “There is some relationship between low vitamin D and developing MS or worsening MS symptoms.” It is further stated that the relationship between MS and sunlight appears to be life-long with mention that people who spent childhood summer vacations in sunny spots seem less likely to develop multiple sclerosis later on.
There are several options for getting a daily dose of our favorite sun vitamin if you don’t want to (or can’t) go outside – back to the diet – eat vitamin D rich foods such as eggs, fortified milk and cod liver oil. Of course you can also take a vitamin D supplement.
7. Consider assisting your loved one in keeping track of MS Symptoms. This can help the doctors determine how the disease is progressing and whether the medications are working. This will also help the doctor recognize a relapse, which is characterized by a worsening of previous symptoms or the appearance of a new symptom that lasts more than 24 hours. Take notes in a log that include when the symptoms happened, details of what they felt like and how long they lasted.
8. Understand that MS Symptoms are unpredictable. In a statement by one doctor “over the course of the disease, some MS Symptoms will come and go, while others may be long lasting.” he says it will be different for each patient. Furthermore, take a look at this list of some of these symptoms in order to get an idea of what you’re looking for:
Numbness, Blurred Vision, Loss of Balance, Poor Coordination, Slurred Speech, Tremors, Extreme Fatigue, Problems with Memory, Bladder Dysfunction, Paralysis and Blindness
9. Though not previously mentioned, incontinence is also a debilitating symptom within multiple sclerosis. These troubles can sometimes lead to isolation – again watch out for depression.
10. It’s a good idea to join a care group and perhaps look into joining a ‘carers emergency card’ scheme. Upon registering with a scheme, you will think about and draw up an emergency care plan for your loved one, with the help from a skilled professional. This way, if/when trouble strikes, the scheme would use your plan to make arrangements for replacement care for the person you care for. Carers emergency cards are not available everywhere. Check with your local authorities or find out if there is a Carer Center in your area.
11. Find support, for yourself and your loved one. Benefits of participating in a connection program include:
- Learning new information and strategies for managing MS
- Finding support from others
- The opportunity to help others
- New power and confidence in facing the challenges of living with MS (or assisting one that lives with it)
12. Take into consideration that MS happens to families (and friends), not just individuals. When a person is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, there is immediate impact on all surrounding said individual. Alongside the depressive issues that the patient may suffer with, family members and other loved ones may experience the same emotions as they adapt to the diagnosis – fear, guilt, anger, denial, grief, anxiety.
13. Don’t forget to take into account that someone suffering with MS may also be struggling financially. It is obvious that because of the complexity and unpredictability of this disease, it can have varying effects on a person’s ability to work. Of course, today’s disease modifying drugs, new technologies, better symptom management, legal employment protections and community resources can help the patient remain in the workforce… it is still an expensive disease to have.