Multiple Sclerosis, Comorbidities, and How to Live with Them

Cathy Chester avatar

by Cathy Chester |

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I’m doing all I can to remain calm and keep stressors at bay all in the name of wellness. So I’m trying to meditate at least five minutes a day — find a quiet room to sit tall, close my eyes, and focus on my breath. It’s hard to get rid of the endless nonsense that fills my head but I’m doing the best I can. Om …

I’ve been on a rockier road than usual and sometimes I wonder if G-d is using me as a punching bag or if it all can be blamed on a genetic or environmental factor. Who knows why things happen as they do? The point is that every day is another dance with pain and that’s one dance I’d rather sit out.

In January 2017, my gastroenterologist diagnosed me with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), acid reflux, and a hiatal hernia. As if that weren’t enough I had a bout of diverticulitis. Ouch!

The pain, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue from SIBO are completely overwhelming. Sometimes I dread waking up in the morning and wonder how much more I can take.

It’s hard to get much work done because I can’t find a comfortable sitting position. Most days you’ll find me at home, close to the bathroom, the comfort and security of my bed, and the quality care I get from my husband.

My world keeps getting smaller as my social life slips away. It’s somewhat understandable since I either cancel or refuse invitations.

To make matters worse, my MS reared its ugly head in response to my new diagnoses. My legs, feet, and hands grew weaker and increasingly numb by the day and the fatigue was totally paralyzing. I refused to call the doctor since I knew she’d want to prescribe steroids. The last time I took them I promised I’d never go on them again. But I finally reached a point when enough was enough and I suffered through a three-day course of prednisone.

I endured agonizing gut pain as a side effect of that dreadful medication, and for a few weeks, I felt worse instead of better. When the side effects finally subsided, my body bounced back to where it was before my exacerbation began.

There’s a high level of comorbidities within the MS community, and it’s not atypical for people with MS to also be diagnosed with gastrointestinal issues. According to a February 2018 article from the National Institutes of Health titled “Comorbidity in US patients with multiple sclerosis,” a study analysis based on a sample of 5 million patients from a U.S. database of the IMS Health Real World Data Adjudicated Claims showed (emphasis added):

“The most common comorbidities from 2006 to 2014 were hyperlipidemia and hypertension (25.9%–29.7% of patients within an individual year), followed by gastrointestinal disease (18.4%–21.2% of patients) and thyroid disease (12.9%–17.1% of patients). … The proportion with a claim for hyperlipidemia increased from 2006 to 2009, was stable from 2009 to 2011, and then declined from 2011 to 2014. The proportion with a claim for hypertension generally increased from 2006 to 2013, then declined from 2013 to 2014. The proportion with a claim for gastrointestinal disease, thyroid disease, and anxiety generally increased from 2006 to 2014.

It’s not surprising that people living with two or more diagnosed illnesses may at one time or another experience loneliness, anxiety, or depression. That is something I’d like to avoid, but how can I live the best life possible despite living with two chronic illnesses? 

I spent a good deal of time reading through medical websites and health-related blogs that focus on living with pain and disease. Then I created a list of reminders of what (and what not) to do and wrote them in my journal. I referred to this list every day at first, and now glance at it whenever I need a reminder. I hope you find it helpful. Feel free to add your own reminders to make this list your own.

  • Deep breathing/meditation
  • Reduce stress
  • Exercise
  • Increase your amount of sleep
  • Cut back on or avoid alcohol
  • Join a support group
  • Don’t smoke
  • Track pain levels and activities
  • Eat healthily
  • Acupuncture and massages
  • Distract yourself from pain. Examples: movies, books, walking, journaling, writing, reading, time with family, friends, and pets.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Lynn Andrews avatar

Lynn Andrews

In response to the above article, I don't suffer from the gastrointestinal problems, but I do have MS and Fibromyalgia. I'm not a so-called Jesus freak, but I am a Christian and find that prayer and Bible study makes my life easier. I'm on numerous medications, but made up my mind 29 years ago when I was diagnosed that MS wouldn't take me. I fight it on a daily basis. I volunteer one afternoon a week and serve as worship leader at a small Baptist Church. I have strong support network from my daughters and my Church family. Please don't take this as I think I know what you're going through. I'm only sharing what helps me.

Bob Bales avatar

Bob Bales

Hi Cathy, Great article that helps describe and document symptoms I also have. 8 months ago I felt it was time to stop working and stay at home. It was difficult after 29 years as a technician at HP. My wife still works there, so I can hear the latest news. I especially like the list you created: 1.) Deep breathing/meditation; I deep breath often. 2.) Reduce stress; Two small dogs help.3.) Exercise; Daily tread mill (just 2 min.). 4.) Increase your amount of sleep; 8-10 per night now. 5.) Cut back on or avoid alcohol; Maybe 1 per week now. 6.) Join a support group; I looked into it, but chose not to. 7.) Don’t smoke; I quit 2 weeks ago (cold turkey). 8.) Track pain levels and activities; Current TN jaw pain. 9.) Eat healthily; healthy foods. 10.) Acupuncture and massages; Haven't tried that yet. 11.) Distract yourself from pain. Examples: movies, books, walking, journaling, writing, reading, time with family, friends, and pets; This is helpful.
Thanks for sharing and letting me share.

M avatar


I am living with multiple sclerosis for 40 years. Two years ago they diagnosed me with lupus as well. M.s. society didn't help me at all, I am wondering why do we have this society at all!! So the wealthy poeple whom controlling this kinds of societies get wealthier and who cares about patients. Basically I don't understand what am I supposed to do? I am tired of all the new medication with a lot of unbearable side effects which they don't work. I am just alive and pushing myself from one day to another. Okay so what!!!!!!!!!!

Suzy Fivecoat avatar

Suzy Fivecoat

Pray. It DOES help bring peace to your soul.

ALAN S avatar


Whether the Swank diet delivers results in MS, may remain unproven to the satisfaction of doctors. However, commodities such as hyperlipidia and hypertension are easily handled well by the diet and going further to a plant based diet helps greatly with digestion.

Many comorbities are easily avoided with diet and that's not just for people with MS.

Leann Henshaw avatar

Leann Henshaw

I have been on Gilenia for many years, since it first showed up on a drug trial. Previous to that I had tried Copaxone and Tysabri. Nothing really did much that I could tell! However, I'm beginning to think that I may have advanced to secondary progressive! Just going by the definitions, I'm not really 'relapsing' any more, but I am slowly sliding down this slippery slope called disability!

Cathy Chester avatar

Cathy Chester


I hope you are not sliding, but I urge you to speak to your doctor. If you aren't already please be proactive about your MS. It's sometimes hard, and a pain, but our health is our number one priority! I hope you find relief, comfort and feel better soon.

Best to you always~
Cathy Chester

Chuggie avatar


I too have had MS for over 30 years with gastrointestinal issues. I now decided to change the foods I eat following Dr. Terry Whal’s Paleo Protocol. I hope it will help both my MS and gastrointestinal problems. Find her story online, her books at the library or for purchase. In addition to MS, anyone with other autoimmune diseases may be happy with the results.

Cathy Chester avatar

Cathy Chester

Thank you, Chuggie. Funny thing is that I interviewed Terry Wahl's for my blog a few years ago BEFORE my gastro issues! I should go read her book a new light! Hope it works well for you.
Cathy Chester

Chuggie avatar


Thanks, Cathy!



I do everything recommended to relieve my symptoms but they persist and I've become more and more isolated. My anxiety increases and my fear of the future is frightening. I want to be positive but it's not working.


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