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Living Well With MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition that can cause symptoms such as fatigue, pain, bladder and bowel problems, sexual dysfunction, movement and coordination difficulties, vision and cognition changes, spasticity, numbness, and emotional/mental health problems.

MS affects each person differently. In some, the disease progresses continually over time; in others, the disease has periodic flare-ups and exacerbations between periods of remission.

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.

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Stress is known to be a major factor in disease worsening. As such, adequate stress management strategies can benefit patient well-being, both physically and psychologically. A small study in Poland found that people with MS had a better quality of life when they actively took steps to cope with chronic stress. These strategies included adopting a positive way of thinking, maintaining a sense of humor, and seeking emotional support from others.

“For me, living with MS is more like having a constant companion. Some days we get along very well; on others, my companion can be a real pain in the butt. … Sometimes we arm-wrestle — and my MS medications have helped me win many of those contests — but we never battle.”

— Ed Tobias, columnist, “The MS Wire”

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Overall Wellness

Wellness is a lifelong journey in which people become aware of themselves and how they feel, including making positive behavioral and lifestyle choices 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. 

Paying attention to your inner self and your needs may help you participate in your personal and professional activities as much as possible. Making positive changes for the good of your physical and mental health can help you live life with MS to the fullest.

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Fatigue affects as many as 4 out of 5 people with MS. A 2021 study found that those who smoke tobacco or are not physically active are more likely to experience fatigue that interferes with their daily life. The findings suggest that physical exercise and quitting smoking could help ease fatigue in MS patients.

“Living with MS could be compared to having an annoying house guest who never leaves. … Eventually, there comes the realization that they are planning on an extended stay and you will need to adjust to that. You don’t know how long the house guest or the MS are going to be with you, so you are forced to find a way to be positive and coexist.”

— Debi Wilson, columnist, “Faith of the Mustard Seed”

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A 2020 study conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University found that people with MS who exercise regularly are able to maintain volume in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Patients in the active group were found to have less brain atrophy than those who were more inactive.

“Find the right exercise routine and a trainer who works for you. And when that stops working, find something else. The most important thing, regardless of our disease manifestation or abilities, is to keep moving as much as we can. The health benefits and confidence that come from working hard and feeling stronger is priceless. In the words of my favorite trainer, “You’ve got this!”
— Judy Lynn, columnist, “You’ve Got Some Nerve”


Diet and Nutrition

People with MS are advised to maintain a healthy diet, as certain foods can interfere with their energy level, bladder and bowel health, and possibly shift their immune system to a more inflammatory state.

Although a number of different diets have been studied for people with MS, solid evidence does not exist to support any one over another, leaving the issue much to an individual’s choice.

Diets that have been studied for their benefits in MS include the paleolithic diet, Mediterranean diet, McDougall diet, gluten-free diet, Swank diet, and Wahls elimination diet. Almost all have points in common, such as avoiding highly processed foods, foods with a high glycemic index and foods high in saturated fat, and recommend reducing fatty red meat intake and increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

It is recommended that patients consult their doctors before making any major dietary changes.

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A large survey study conducted in the Netherlands found that a healthy diet led to better physical and mental quality of life in adults with MS, especially women. Substantial amounts of vegetables, fruits, fiber, and healthy fats were associated with better overall health in these MS patients, the scientists reported.

“We all have different bodies, and each one of these glorious creations our souls call home has different needs. Listen to yours. Give it what it needs to be nourished — whether that comes in the form of a good steak, a lush green salad, a cool glass of water, a brisk walk with a friend, or even a Sunday afternoon nap. Good health comes in many different forms. Find yours and embrace it!”
— Jamie Hughes, columnist, “A Life in Letters”

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While estimates vary, studies have reported that the rate of depression in MS patients can be as high as 50% and anxiety as high as 35%. These two conditions are associated with worse long-term outcomes, such as a lower quality of life and progression of disability. One-third of MS patients in a 2018 Canadian study reported a need for mental healthcare, with symptoms of anxiety and depression identified as predominant factors.


Be kind to yourself. Anxiety is not a flaw; it’s a physical reaction to a perceived threat. It is essential to learn techniques to help mitigate its impact. I have found an array of tools to be helpful. I practice daily prayer and meditation. When I feel my anxiety peak, I choose a suitable mantra. I find a quiet space and clear my head. When I become distracted, I repeat my mantra.”
— Jennifer Powell, columnist, “Silver Linings”

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Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness is one approach that may help people with MS relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, or stress. This form of meditation focuses on perceptions by generating awareness and acceptance of moment-to-moment experiences.

Mindfulness-based interventions are designed to boost mental well-being by purposefully staying present in the moment and acknowledging one’s feelings in an honest but nonjudgmental way.

The practice involves strategies to relax the body and mind such as breathing methods and guided imagery. A simple mindfulness exercise involves sitting in a quiet, comfortable place and focusing on your breathing. Doing this for even a minute or two may help to clear your mind of negative thoughts and allow you to refocus your energy.

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Four weeks of mindfulness meditation helped to improve thinking skills and a sense of emotional balance in people with MS, according to results from a pilot clinical trial conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University. Mindfulness practice consisted of two hours of in-person sessions each week, and homework assignments performed daily for 40 minutes. Exercises included breathing awareness, body scanning, and sitting meditation. Participants were asked to focus on thoughts, emotions, and sensations.


“I know that when I was a newly diagnosed 22-year-old with MS, I used to worry like crazy about the future and what my life would be like with this illness. Did worrying about my future at the time help? Nope! Did it make my anxious state almost unbearable? Yep. The only thing you can control are the actions you take today to create a better tomorrow.”
— Jessie Ace, columnist, “Disabled to Enabled”