Living with multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong condition with symptoms such as fatigue, pain, bladder and bowel problems, sexual dysfunction, movement and coordination difficulties, vision and cognition changes, and emotional/mental health problems.

Not every MS patient is affected by the condition in the same way. For some, symptoms can worsen with time, and living with MS can affect many aspects of daily life, including health, wellness, relationships, and careers. A diagnosis of MS means that people may have to adapt to a new lifestyle.

Living life with MS to the fullest may mean making positive choices about your physical and mental health. Here are some tips.

Overall wellness

The National MS Society defines wellness as a “dynamic state of physical, emotional, spiritual and social well-being that can be achieved even in the presence of a chronic illness or disability.” Wellness is a lifelong journey in which people become aware of themselves and how they feel, which includes positive behavioral and lifestyle choices in order to feel their best. It is about treating both the body and mind. Strategies to promote health (diet, exercise, and MS treatments), investing in personal relationships to create a strong support groups, and mental and emotional strategies to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression are all part of a person’s overall wellness.

Being diagnosed with MS should not keep you from doing your job or participating in leisure activities that you enjoy. You can maintain your personal and professional activities and pay attention to your inner self, too.

Physical health

Staying healthy is very important for people with any chronic disorder, and MS is no exception. Your doctor or other healthcare professional can recommend a diet/nutrition plan that could have a positive impact on your symptoms.

Although there is no special diet for MS, what you eat will have some impact on your health and overall well-being (including your energy level, bladder and bowel functions, and other symptoms), so your diet is important. Some specialists recommend a low-fat, high-fiber diet for people with MS. However, with any dietary recommendation, it is important to consult with your doctor to ensure that important vitamins and nutrients are included.

Exercise is another great way to stay healthy and manage your symptoms. Exercise programs for those with MS should fit the individual’s needs and capabilities, and you should discuss fitness options with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise regime. There are simple physical activities that you can do at home: gardening, cooking, household tasks. Other recommended activities include yoga, adaptive tai chi, or swimming/water exercises. Yoga and tai chi can teach you relaxation techniques (such as meditation) that you can use when in stressful situations, such as having a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or other medical procedures. Water exercises are great for improving flexibility and range of motion, and can help reduce pain.

Smoking and alcohol consumption are known causes of many health problems. A 2003 study showed a relationship between smoking and the risk of developing MS. According to the National MS Society, smoking can also worsen MS symptoms and disease progression. Programs and resources are available through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help people quit smoking, and the website offers support, tips, tools, and expert advice.

Alcohol consumption affects the central nervous system. It can cause a loss of balance, slurred speech, and impaired judgment and thinking. More importantly, though, alcohol can also interact with MS medications like baclofen (brand name Lioresal), diazepam (brand name Valium), clonazepam (brand name Klonopin), and some antidepressants. Consider talking to your doctor about alcohol consumption and potential drug interactions.

Emotional health

MS may also affect your emotional health. Symptoms can affect how you manage your daily activities, including personal and professional relationships. Physiologically, it can also affect parts of the brain that control a person’s mood or anxiety level.

MS progression can bring emotional changes, starting with the moment of  diagnosis. Common emotions that you might experience include grief and sadness, worry, fear, moodiness, and irritability. In more severe cases, or during progression, you may feel anxiety or depression.

Recognizing these emotions as being part of MS is important, as they will affect your lifestyle and may become a source of emotional pain. Talking with your doctor and seeking advice from a mental health professional can help you deal with these symptoms. You can also look for MS support groups, including online social groups, social media interaction, and community networks. Speaking with others who have MS can alleviate the feeling of being alone. If so inclined, taking the opportunity to interact and help others with MS can also provide an emotional lift.

Family and friends

Discussing your condition with family, friends, and others in your personal and professional relationships is a difficult and personal decision — deciding who to tell and how much information to provide is not easy. Your family and friends may not always understand what you are feeling and how MS is affecting you. Telling your close family and friends first may be a good start, giving only the information you think is necessary. With time, you can decide whether or not you tell more people about your condition. Having strong family relationships and friendships are important for everyone, not just those with MS; the energy and effort to develop and maintain these positive connections is worth it.

Intimacy with your spouse or partner is a way of connecting — both verbally and nonverbally. MS can affect your sex life, and you may have to discover new ways of being intimate. Also, if your symptoms interfere with daily home activities, it may help to shift household roles and responsibilities with your partner. In the same manner, you may need to reorganize your family resources (such as money, time, and emotional energy).

If you are a parent with MS, you will likely have concerns about how it will affect your children. Knowing how and when to talk to your children about MS is important; the National MS Society website has helpful information on programs, services, and resources — MS affects the whole family.

Social life

Social activities can improve the quality of life of people with MS. Your symptoms might not allow you to participate in sports and other activities like you once did, so you may want to consider other ways to keep fit and stay socially active. Attending social events can be a challenge for some; you may want to check first if the venue is comfortable, safe, and easily accessible.

When making travel plans, include accessibility and mobility considerations. If you are a wheelchair user, try to confirm if your destination is wheelchair-accessible, and make sure the hotel rooms have the necessary facilities to meet your needs.

Education and career

Because MS is a highly variable disease, it may have an impact on your education and career. However mild or severe your symptoms may be, consider telling your employer or educational institution about your condition so that your needs can be met in a confidential manner.

MS symptoms worsen over time, so if your job is physically demanding, look at transitioning into a more suitable position, or search for similar job opportunities.

As you get older

Life expectancy for people with MS keeps increasing as new treatment options become available; people with the condition now regularly reach the age of 65 and older. Planning for your future needs in terms of advanced care or knowing more about insurance and financial security is always good advice.

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.