The uncertainty of what to expect can make your multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis feel even more overwhelming. Here are some guidelines for what to anticipate.
One of your first concerns following your MS diagnosis is likely your prognosis. MS is an unpredictable disease with no cure. No two people experience the same symptoms, progression, or response to treatment. This can make it difficult to predict how the course of your disease will play out, especially when you’re first diagnosed.
Still, MS isn’t fatal and most people with MS have a normal life expectancy. Also, around two-thirds of people with MS remain able to walk. Some may need a cane or other aid to make walking easier because of fatigue or balance issues.
Approximately 85 percent of patients are diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), which can have mild symptoms and long periods of remission. Many people with this milder form of MS are able to go on living their lives with very little disruption or medical treatment. Half of those with RRMS will progress to secondary-progressive MS. This progression often happens at least ten years after an initial RRMS diagnosis.
It’s understandable to be worried about what symptoms your new diagnosis will bring. Although your doctor won’t be able to tell you exactly which symptoms you’ll experience, some tend to be more common than others, including:
- numbness or weakness, usually affecting one side of the body at a time
- balance and coordination issues
- pain and vision disturbance in one eye
- bladder control issues
- bowel problems
Even when your disease is under control, you’ll experience attacks, also called relapses or exacerbations. Medication can help limit the number of attacks and the severity.
MS is a complex disease, so it’s best treated with a comprehensive plan. This plan can be broken down into three parts:
- Long-term treatment to modify the course of the disease by slowing progression.
- Management of relapses by limiting the frequency and severity of the attacks.
- Treatment of the symptoms associated with MS.
There are currently eleven disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of relapsing forms of MS. You’ll likely be advised to start one of these medications immediately following your diagnosis.
MS can cause several symptoms, ranging in severity. Your doctor will treat these individually using a combination of medications, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. You may be referred to other health professionals experienced in treating MS, such as physical or occupational therapists, nutritionists, or counsellors.
You may worry that your new diagnosis will interfere with your current lifestyle and your ability to stay active. Fortunately, most people with MS are able to keep living productive lives.
Staying active is encouraged by MS experts. Several studies have found that exercise is an important part of MS management. Along with the usual health benefits, such as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, staying active can help you function better with MS.
Other benefits of exercise include:
- improved strength and endurance
- improved function
- increased energy
- improved anxiety and depression symptoms
- increased participation in social activities
- improved bladder and bowel function
Another aspect of your life that you’re probably wondering about is your career or job. Many people are able to continue working. According to a paper published in the BC Medical Journal, many people decide not to disclose their condition to their employers or colleagues. Many also report that their daily lives aren’t adversely affected.
MS-certified physical therapists and occupational therapists can help you maintain a lifestyle that you’re comfortable with. Physical therapists can help you come up with a plan to get fit and stay active. An occupational therapist can help you make the appropriate modifications to make it easier to continue with your daily activities at work and home.
You cannot know exactly what to expect with an MS diagnosis, but learning as much as possible about your new condition and all of your options will make things easier.