Multiple Sclerosis is a potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Most experts classify MS as an autoimmune condition, whereas the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues in the body, specifically destroying the myelin. Myelin acts as an insulating entity, wrapping around the nerve fibers to help successfully deliver messages through the central nervous system. When disrupted, electrical signals are cannot flow properly, causing debilitating symptoms.
The symptoms of MS are often different for everyone and will likely look different throughout the entire disease state for each person. Some may exhibit mild time frames without many significant symptoms, while others will have frequent, persisting issues with their vision, walking, and speaking. Currently there is no cure for MS, but there are treatment options that can help speed up recovery from attacks, manage symptoms, and even modify the course of the disease.
Types of MS
There are four types of MS according to the National MS Society:
- Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS): RRMS is the most common type of MS and is characterized by clearly defined attacks of new or increasing neurologic symptoms.
- Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS): SPMS type follows a preliminary RRMS course. It is likely that the majority of RRMS cases will eventually transition to SPMS – classified as a progression in failing of neurologic functionality.
- Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS): PPMS can be defined as worsening neurologic function from the inception of signs, without the beginning relapses or remissions.
- Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS): CIS is defined as the first episode of neurologic symptoms caused by inflammation and demyelination in the central nervous system.
Being Diagnosed with MS
Everyone responds differently after being diagnosed. Feelings similar to the Five Stages of Grief can be common and are all part of the process of coming to terms with a chronic illness diagnosis. For others experiencing unexplainable symptoms and a series of misdiagnoses, finally finding an answer brings welcomed relief. It’s important to remember that everyone responds differently to life events and there is always hope in any situation.
Finding a Support System After Being Diagnosed with MS?
After you’ve had time to personally process your diagnosis, reach out to family, friends, or co-workers for support and advice. Apart from talking to your family, explore avenues for additional support including personal therapy, support groups, and online resources to provide guidance and community.
- Family and Friends: Surrounding yourself with loved ones during times of challenge and change. The National MS Society has an incredible resource your family and friends might find useful in answering their questions, preventing you from explaining what you’ve learned so far multiple times.
- Therapy: In addition to the support of your love ones, many people find speaking with a licensed professional also helpful. Your doctor or insurance company can help you find the right therapist to manage your condition.
- Support Group: We cannot emphasize the need enough for you to join a support group if you’ve been diagnosed with MS. Meeting people through social groups can be reassuring, as you may be surprised to find how many people offer wisdom and support on living with MS. The National MS Society has various resources on finding support and community.
While under any medication for chronic illness, it is important to maintain physical wellness. Seek advice from your doctor and others living with MS on what healthy additions might help you manage symptoms and improve your overall health. Find what behaviors work best for your body and day-to-day life and develop them into practice.
- Rest and Exercise: Find an active activity you enjoy and make a goal of practicing it as your MS symptoms allow (ideally 3-4 times a week), while additionally being sensitive to overexertion. While living with MS, you might learn you grow fatigued more quickly and it’s important to listen to your body and rest when this happens.
- Eat a Balanced Diet: Diets are hardly ever a one-size-fits-all solution, particularly when factoring in MS. According to the National MS Society, most MS specialists recommend the low-fat, high-fiber diet as the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. With most diets, it can be some trial and error in finding what works best for your body. When in doubt, discuss what is working and what isn’t working with your healthcare provider to find the right balance.