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Finding the Right Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

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A Guide to Multiple Sclerosis Self-Care

Medically Reviewed By Nancy Carteron, M.D., FACR

Multiple sclerosis (MS) self-care approaches may help manage symptoms alongside medical treatments. Examples of self-care techniques include following an anti-inflammatory diet and improving sleep quality. MS is a condition that affects your brain, nerves, and spinal cord. It can cause muscle weakness, numbness, and vision problems. Sometimes, symptoms may worsen or return during a flare-up.

Medical treatments are important with MS. However, self-care approaches can help alleviate symptoms, improve your quality of life, and possibly reduce complications.

Read on for nine effective MS self-care tips that may help support you and your health.

1. Quit smoking if you smoke

Someone helps an older adult use resistance bands.
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Smoking may have several effects on MS.

According to a 2018 meta-analysis Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , smoking may cause an increase in disability ratings for people with MS. One 2020 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source also suggests that tobacco use may increase the risk of inflammation with MS.

MS charities, such as the MS Society and the MS Trust, also suggest that:

  • Smoking may make it harder to recover from MS relapses.
  • Smoking may make medications known as disease-modifying therapies less effective at preventing relapses.
  • Smoking may weaken the bones and make you more prone to experiencing:
    • nerve pain
    • spasms
    • headaches
    • back pain

If you smoke, consider talking with your doctor for advice on how you can quit smoking.

Read more advice for quitting smoking.

2. Talk with your doctor about alcohol consumption

In some cases, alcohol may potentially worsen some symptoms of MS. For example, sexual problems can be a symptom of MS. A 2018 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that alcohol may reduce vaginal lubrication in people assigned female at birth. It may also make it more difficult for them to reach orgasm. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source also suggests that drinking alcohol can increase your chance of having long-term mental health problems. These can include anxiety and depression. 

However, some research Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source theorizes that alcohol may help alleviate MS symptoms related to immune activity. Still, further research is necessary to confirm this, and the safety of drinking alcohol can vary per person.

In general, the CDC recommends consuming alcohol in moderation.

Talk with your doctor for personalized advice about whether alcohol consumption may be appropriate for you.

3. Manage stress

Many people with MS report that stress worsens their symptoms. Researchers are still investigating how and why this happens.

Long-term stress may also increase the likelihood of fatigue, depression, and other conditions a person with MS may experience.

Tips to help manage stress can include: 

  • engaging in physical activity at a level manageable for you
  • making time for activities you enjoy, such as reading or spending time with friends
  • maintaining a regular sleep pattern and getting good quality sleep
  • prioritizing tasks to avoid becoming overwhelmed
  • receiving counseling or therapy
  • talking with your doctor about any concerns or for personal advice about stress

4. Get regular physical activity

Regular physical activity provides many benefits, including:

  • reducing your risk of developing heart problems 
  • improving bone health
  • managing blood sugar and insulin levels
  • improving mood and helping you feel more relaxed 
  • increasing Trusted Source National Cancer Institute Governmental authority Go to source energy and reducing fatigue
  • increasing sexual arousal

A 2017 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source also suggests that regular training, including cardio, weight-bearing, and flexibility exercises, may help:

  • recondition people with MS, which may improve strength and mobility
  • improve fitness and body function
  • improve fatigue
  • decrease symptoms of spasticity and prevent painful muscle contractions
  • improve balance and decrease fall rates
  • improve quality of life

Other studies also suggest Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source that meditation paired with yoga may help improve symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

Talk with your doctor about what kind of physical activity may be most beneficial for you. Specialists such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists can help you exercise safely and tailor activity to your condition.

5. Following a personal food plan

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory condition. As a result, following an anti-inflammatory food plan may help Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source alleviate your symptoms. 

Anti-inflammatory food plans can vary widely, but generally include the following foods:

  • minimally processed foods and foods without added sugars
  • green leafy vegetables
  • fruits
  • nuts and seeds
  • lean proteins, such as oily fish, beans and legumes, and lean cuts of poultry

Read more about how to follow an anti-inflammatory food plan.

Recommended food plans can vary per person

What food plan may be beneficial can vary.

For example, some people with MS may have Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source a vitamin D deficiency. Due to this, your doctor may recommend supplements or eating a diet that is higher in vitamin D.

Always contact a doctor or a registered dietitian before making significant changes to your diet. They can provide personalized advice on how to best support your health.

6. Get enough good quality sleep

Sleep disorders may be more common in people with MS than in those without. 

Sleep disturbances may occur with MS due to:

  • not getting enough physical activity due to fatigue and disability
  • napping during the day due to fatigue, which can disrupt later sleep
  • feeling stressed, depressed, or anxious 
  • experiencing side effects of medications
  • developing nutritional deficiencies
  • experiencing other symptoms that may interrupt sleep, such as:
    • urinary or bowel problems
    • restless leg syndrome
    • difficulty regulating body temperature

Ways to help improve Trusted Source National Institute on Aging Governmental authority Go to source your sleep can include: 

  • avoiding using smartphones, computers, or other screens in the bedroom
  • engaging in physical activity that is manageable for you
  • avoiding physical activity before bedtime
  • following a personalized, nutritional food plan
  • eating small meals in the evening
  • avoiding napping for longer than 30 minutes
  • managing stress
  • working with your doctor to optimize your treatment and symptom management
  • asking your doctor about medication side effects

See more tips for improving sleep with MS.

7. Adapt your environment

Making updates to the home environment can help you move around safely and support your independence.

Ways to make your environment safer and more accessible can include:

  • making sure that furniture and rugs are stable and properly anchored
  • installing handlebars or grab bars, particularly on potentially slippery floors or around steps and stairs
  • keeping walking or wheelchair routes free of furniture and other items
  • reducing trip hazards
  • making sure essential items are easily reachable, including light switches and other devices
  • removing inside doors if necessary
  • using other specially designed or ergonomic devices, such as:
    • plates, cutlery, and cups for people with limited grip
    • other accessible kitchen items, such as ring-pull cans or automatic can openers
    • hoists and sliding sheets
    • non-slip mats

An occupational therapist can advise on how to optimize the home for you and your daily activities.

8. Follow your treatment plan

Your medical team may prescribe medications and other therapies tailored to your condition. These treatments can help:

  • reduce relapses
  • improve your symptoms and quality of life
  • prevent damage to your organs and tissues and other possible complications
  • lower your risk of complications
  • improve your outlook

As a result, it is important to follow the treatment plan your care team recommends. If you have difficulty following your treatment plan, contact your medical team for advice. They can also answer any questions you may have, such as about medication side effects.

Read more about the outlook of MS and improving outcomes.

9. Stay in contact with your doctor and other sources of support

Keeping your planned appointments can help support the effectiveness of your treatment. It can also help your care team monitor your health to prevent flare-ups and complications.

Also, contact your doctor if:

  • you think that you are having a flare-up
  • your symptoms have changed, worsened, or become more frequent
  • you have questions or concerns about your condition or care
  • you are having difficulties with your treatment

Social support may also help you with some of the emotional, social, and practical effects of MS. This can include:

  • support groups
  • trusted family or friends
  • local healthcare services
  • charities and organizations

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has an online directory of local support groups for MS.

Your doctor may also be able to recommend any local support groups and resources for people with MS.

Summary

MS is a condition that damages your nervous system. It causes effects such as blurry vision, mobility problems, and numbness. 

Alongside medical therapies, MS self-care approaches can help reduce the severity and impact of symptoms. They can also improve your quality of life. Examples include getting regular physical activity, managing stress, and improving sleep quality.

Members of your medical team, such as your doctor or an occupational therapist, can help you use these approaches and provide personalized advice.

Contact your doctor if you have any questions about your symptoms, treatment, or care.

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Medical Reviewer: Nancy Carteron, M.D., FACR
Last Review Date: 2023 Jun 27
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