MDS are cancerous bone marrow disorders that can cause symptoms such as weakness, frequent infections, and easy bruising. Some self-care strategies can help you manage symptoms and navigate challenges related to treatment.

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are cancers that affect how your bone marrow creates new blood cells. Rather than produce mature, active cells, the bone marrow in MDS generates immature and dysfunctional cells that can’t serve their intended purpose.

The end result is too few functioning red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Without enough of these working blood components, you may notice symptoms ranging from shortness of breath and weakness to weight loss and sleep disturbances.

Living with MDS can be physically and mentally challenging. Focusing on your well-being through self-care can help you manage symptoms, navigate the trials of treatment, and find balance in everyday life with MDS.

Focusing on a balanced diet can help protect your body against MDS and treatment side effects by giving you the nutrients you need for optimal function.

Getting the proper nutrients can help you maintain your body weight and prevent malnutrition, which can worsen MDS symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and pain perception.

Your body requires energy to combat the demands of MDS, and your doctor may recommend a high-energy diet to ensure you can meet those changing needs.

A balanced diet for MDS typically includes:

  • a plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • low sodium intake
  • limiting processed foods
  • avoiding sugary beverages
  • reducing intake of refined starches

You may work with your doctor or a dietitian to help you create a meal plan that works for you. They can also help ensure you’re getting enough nutrients if you’re dealing with side effects of treatment, such as loss of appetite or nausea, that may make it difficult for you to eat.

If you aren’t feeling well due to MDS symptoms or treatment, it’s natural to not want to exercise. In fact, deconditioning (fatigue accompanied by a loss of physical and psychological function) is a common complication of blood cancer treatments.

Exercise can be beneficial for people living with cancer, however. It can help reduce pain, ease psychological distress, and help you maintain bone health and overall functionality.

A review from 2020 found exercise and physical activity had the potential to improve a range of outcomes for people living with blood cancers by boosting the immune system and creating an anticancer environment in the body.

Before starting an exercise program, it’s a good idea to speak with a doctor. Aim to be active for about 30 minutes every day to start. Exercises you may want to try include:

  • walking
  • yoga
  • tai chi
  • strength training

The negative impact of alcohol on blood cells has long been established in older research. Heavy alcohol consumption can suppress blood cell production and lead to the creation of immature cells, much like those seen in MDS.

In addition to affecting cellular production, alcohol use can cause the premature destruction of red blood cells, which may lead to anemia.

Anemia is already a concern in MDS and is treated through regular blood transfusions.

Alcohol can also contribute to MDS symptoms, such as fatigue, and may interfere with certain medications used during treatment. Speak with your doctor about whether or not it’s safe for you to drink alcohol.

There are many reasons you might not get quality sleep when living with MDS. Uncomfortable symptoms, treatment side effects, and stress are all things that can prevent restorative slumber.

If you have MDS or any other cancer, getting quality sleep can help safeguard your physical and mental health. Getting plenty of rest can help:

  • improve your appetite
  • lower your blood pressure
  • reduce feelings of anxiety and depression
  • strengthen your immune system

There are many steps you can take to help get a better night’s sleep. These include:

  • practicing relaxation techniques
  • avoiding screen time before bed
  • keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
  • avoiding large meals before sleep
  • being physically active during the day
  • talking with your healthcare team about any sleep disturbances you may be experiencing

MDS can affect how many functional white blood cells you have in your body. White blood cells are responsible for helping you fight off bacteria, viruses, and germs that invade the body. Without these immune cells, you may be more likely to get infections.

A big part of self-care for MDS is learning how to protect yourself from infection exposure. This can be done through:

  • frequent handwashing
  • wearing personal protective equipment when in public places
  • cleaning high-touch surfaces in your home regularly
  • not sharing personal items like lip balm or beverages

Following food safety guidelines can also help reduce your risk of infection. Foods considered high risk for bacteria and fungi contamination should be avoided.

This includes:

  • undercooked foods
  • nonpasteurized dairy products and juices
  • unwashed fruits and vegetables
  • aged cheeses
  • foods served buffet-style
  • well or unfiltered spring water

It’s OK to ask friends and family members for support. MDS is taxing, physically and mentally, and treatment can be just as demanding.

Allowing those around you to share in your daily responsibilities can make a huge difference in your stress levels and help you feel less overwhelmed. Sometimes, it’s helpful just to know people are there to support you. You don’t have to go through it all alone.

Communicating openly with loved ones about your experience can also encourage understanding, patience, and empathy. The more they know about life with MDS, the more they’ll be able to help.

Living with MDS can take a toll on your mental health. Feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, guilt, fear, and anger are common with a cancer diagnosis.

Approximately 1 in 4 people living with cancer experience major depressive disorder.

Engaging with mental health services can help you explore your thoughts and emotions, create coping strategies, and connect with people sharing similar experiences.

Speaking with a therapist can offer individual and family guidance, and peer groups can help you learn from others living with MDS. Mental health professionals can also connect you to community services that may offer financial, transportation, or medical support.

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are rare, cancerous bone marrow disorders that affect your functional red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Like other cancer diagnoses, MDS can be physically and mentally demanding.

Self-care for MDS involves eating a well-balanced diet, getting mental health support, and reducing your risk of infection, but other general practices of self-care such as quality sleep, exercise, and limiting alcohol are also important.