7 Strategies for Living With Multiple Sclerosis

Living with MS can be a challenge, but there are a number of things you can do to make it easier.

Fatigue, pain, numbness, cognitive difficulties, problems with bladder/bowel control, sexual dysfunction and depression are just a few of the many symptoms that a person may experience when they have multiple sclerosis (MS). Needless to say, living with MS can be a challenge.

Although there is no cure for MS, there are numerous drugs and therapies that are used to treat the condition. There are also strategies, like the ones listed below, that many help patients cope with the challenges of living with MS.

1. Work with your healthcare providers

If you have MS, it is important that you seek care from a healthcare provider that is experienced in treating the condition. In addition to your neurologist, you need to keep up with appointments with your primary care physician, for preventive care and to manage any other health conditions. Additionally, many people with MS work with physical therapists, occupational therapists and cognitive therapists.

2. Eat well

While there is no diet that can cure MS, eating well can help ease certain symptoms associated with the disease, such as fatigue, incontinence and constipation. Eating healthy is also important to aspects of overall health, such as maintaining a healthy weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Many healthcare providers also recommend vitamin D supplements for people with MS (although the benefits are uncertain, and the optimal dosage is not known).

3. Avoid the heat

Hot temperatures will make symptoms worse for some patients with MS. This includes hot weather, hot baths and showers, and running a fever. Keep your home environment cool, use ice packs or cold compresses when temperatures are high, dress in breathable clothing and try a cool bath or shower after exposure to hot temps or after exercising. Also be wary of very cold temperatures, which may aggravate symptoms for some people.

4. Manage your fluid intake

Bladder problems are common in individuals who have MS, a result of damage to nerves involved in bladder control. However, it is important to stay adequately hydrated. There are a number of strategies to improve bladder function:

  • Try drinking 6 to 8 ounces of fluids at a time, instead of sipping throughout the day. This can help avoid frequent urges to urinate.
  • Sticking to a schedule can help train the bladder. Try limiting your bathroom breaks to every two hours.
  • Kegel exercises, also called pelvic floor exercises, can strengthen the muscles that support the bladder (as well as other organs), which can help control incontinence.
  • Avoid substances that irritate the bladder, such as alcohol, caffeine and aspartame (an artificial sweetener, check ingredient labels).
  • Stop drinking two hours before going to bed, to prevent being woken up by the urge to urinate.
  • Also, stop drinking two hours before any outing where you won’t have access to a bathroom.

5. Keep a diary

Keeping a diary or journal can have a number of benefits. It can lead to more productive appointments with your healthcare provider. It can help you cope with the cognitive difficulties that may arise from having MS. It can give you a better sense of control. Keep a log of your symptoms, moods, side effects from medications, medical bills, calls with your insurance company and anything else related to MS and your overall health.

6. Work on communication

MS can put a major strain on relationships, and it is important to keep an open dialogue with your partner about any feelings of fear, anger, uncertainty or confusion that both of you are feeling. While sexual dysfunction is also a common symptom of MS, there are many ways to explore intimacy, and much has been written about the subject. Many couples even report that they become closer after a diagnosis of MS, as they find new ways to connect and explore intimacy.

7. Join a support group

Don’t ignore the emotional impact of living with MS. Enrolling in a support group, either one that meets in person or online, can help connect you with people who are experiencing similar physical and emotional challenges.

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