7 Things Your Doctor Wants You to Know About Multiple Sclerosis

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    Get the Inside Scoop
    Whether you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) recently or years ago, your healthcare team can help you achieve the best possible health outcome. But you’re the most important part of your treatment plan. We asked neurologists who specialize in this chronic condition for the lowdown on what you can do to slow the disease’s progression.

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    1. “Be prepared for your appointments.”
    Write down your questions and bring them along. “I’m always happy to see the list come out,” says Matthew McCoyd, MD. Whether it’s symptoms or side effects you’re worried about, having a written list ensures that all your concerns get addressed. Be sure to mention any new symptoms you’ve experienced between appointments. Don’t take a wait-and-see approach. “The earlier we get patients on treatment, the better off they’re likely to do long-term,” Dr. McCoyd says.

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    2.“Don’t stop taking your medication without telling your doctor.”
    “If you’re having a problem with your medication, let your neurologist know,” says Guy Buckle, MD. Don’t stop your medication on your own because you’re feeling better. Disease-modifying drugs for the treatment of MS are designed to prevent relapses, or new lesions—not to make symptoms better. “The medications are preventive. If you stop taking your medication, you’ll allow the disease to progress without realizing it—until you have a relapse,” Dr. Buckle says.

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    3. “Consider switching to a newer drug.”
    New drugs can make managing MS easier, so speak up if you’re not happy with the disease-modifying drug you’re taking. “We’re moving away from older medications in which patients had to inject themselves or got flu-like symptoms, fatigue, and depression,” Dr. Buckle says. Keep in mind that you won’t actually feel an immediate benefit from disease-modifying drugs. “They’re an investment in your future, a way to keep you healthy,” says Aaron Miller, MD.

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    4. “Stay active, even if you don’t feel like it.”
    “Inactivity is poison to the nervous system,” says Daniel Becker, MD. “Exercise is extremely important for the nervous system’s maintenance and repair, which becomes more important if you have MS. When your nervous system is injured, activity can help repair it.” Physical therapy isn’t enough. “You should be doing exercises on your own every day,” says James Stark, MD. Even just 20 to 30 minutes of walking 2 to 3 days per week can be helpful. Adapt your exercise routine to your abilities.

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    5. “Enhance your exercise routine with functional electrical stimulation.”
    Research shows that exercise can be even more effective at repairing the damage of MS with functional electrical stimulation (FES). This rehabilitation technique stimulates targeted nerves with a small electrical current while you exercise. As you walk wearing an FES device, which is placed on top of the skin, “the electricity travels from the nerve into the spinal cord to activate nerve growth factors and ultimately adult stem cells in the spinal cord. This supports remyelination,” Dr. Becker says. “With FES, everybody improves. It’s just a question of how much.”

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    6. “Take a vitamin D supplement.”
    Keeping your blood levels of vitamin D up—at least above 30 nanograms per milliliter, preferably above 50—has been shown to prevent new lesions on MRI scans. “I consider vitamin D a treatment for MS on the same level as disease-modifying drugs,” Dr. Stark says. If you haven’t had your vitamin D level checked, ask your doctor to do it. He or she may recommend a supplement. “It’s surprisingly common how low vitamin D levels are,” Dr. Buckle says. “And there’s very little risk to taking the vitamin.”

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    7. “Find help in your community—and be proactive.”
    To help you manage the challenges of MS, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America offer resources on everything from health insurance to housing. In addition, be sure to contact your county health department to see what’s available. “I had a wheelchair-bound MS patient who was routinely calling her local fire department to get out of the house,” Dr. McCoyd says. “It turns out there were resources in her county that allowed her to get a ramp built in her home for a minimal charge.”

7 Things Your Doctor Wants You to Know About Multiple Sclerosis

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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