If you’ve recently been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) or if you’ve changed MS treatments within the past year, you may have questions about what to expect.
Every case of MS is different, and treatment approaches work more or less effectively for different people. As a result, treating MS can feel like a trial-and-error process. It requires close communication between you and your doctor.
During the initial stages of a new treatment plan, monitor your symptoms closely and meet with your doctor regularly to discuss your progress. It’s helpful to keep a journal of any questions you might have and bring it with you to every appointment. You may want to write down your doctor’s responses for future reference.
If you’re unsure about what you should ask, the following discussion guide can serve as a blueprint.
How can I tell if my treatment is working?
The main consideration is whether the frequency and severity of your relapses has gone down since beginning the treatment. Based on your relapse history and your current symptoms, your doctor should be able to give you a better sense of whether your new treatment seems to be working effectively.
Although you may not feel as though your symptoms have changed, it’s important to remember that one of the main goals of MS treatments is to prevent the onset of new symptoms.
What are the risks associated with my current treatment?
Your doctor can talk to you about any risks your current treatment may pose, both presently and in the future. Certain MS medications may increase your chance of developing health issues like stroke, migraines, or depression. You can always ask your doctor about whether the benefits of your treatment outweigh the risks.
You can also learn more about any side effects that your treatment may cause, as well as what you can do to help minimize them. If you’re eventually planning to have children, ask your doctor about the potential risks that your MS medications might cause during pregnancy. They may recommend a change to your treatment plan.
What should I do if I don’t think my treatment is working?
If you don’t think that your treatment has been working properly or you’ve noticed that your symptoms have gotten worse, talk to your doctor immediately.
Some MS medications should be discontinued occasionally so that your body can recuperate, but don’t make any changes to your treatment regimen without consulting with your doctor first.
Confirm that you’ve been administering your treatment correctly, and check with your doctor to make sure that your MS medication is not being affected by any over-the-counter or prescription drugs that you may also be taking.
If your doctor agrees that your treatment plan isn’t as effective as expected, take some time to discuss the pros and cons of pursuing new options.
What can I do to alleviate my symptoms?
Treatments are available to address specific symptoms of MS. For example, steroids are sometimes used on a temporary basis to reduce inflammation. Your doctor can provide options to help you cope better with any current flare-ups.
There are also a number of things you can do at home to help improve your general sense of well-being.
Stress is one of the biggest external factors that can exacerbate MS symptoms. Try to manage your stress levels through mindfulness exercises like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Getting yourself onto a consistent sleep schedule of seven to eight hours a night may decrease stress and provide you with more energy throughout the course of your day.
Even though MS may hinder your mobility, make a conscious effort to stay active as much as you can. Low impact activities like walking, swimming, and gardening help to improve your strength. Work with your doctor to develop a fitness plan catered to your own capabilities and needs.
What are the best strategies for coping with a relapse?
Experiencing a relapse, sometimes referred to as an attack, is one of the most challenging parts about living with MS. Speak with your doctor about what methods and strategies might help you manage and recover from an attack. Support services — such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and transportation to and from the hospital — can make a big difference.
More severe relapses are sometimes treated with a high-dose course of steroid injections, taken over a period of three to five days. Although steroid treatment can reduce the duration of relapses, it hasn’t been shown to affect the long-term progression of MS.
What’s my long-term outlook?
Since every case of MS is unique, it’s difficult to know exactly how your condition will progress over time.
If your current treatment path seems to be allowing you to effectively manage your symptoms, it’s possible that you can continue on the same regimen for years without much change. However, it’s possible for new symptoms to flare up, in which case you and your doctor may need to reevaluate your treatment options.
Remember that there are no silly questions when it comes to discussing MS. If you’re unsure about something related to your condition or unclear about aspects of your treatment, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor.
Finding the right MS treatment is a process. Open communication with your doctor is a crucial step towards discovering what works best for you.