With the help of new treatments, modern technology, and the dedication of scientists, researchers, and activists, it’s possible to live your best life with multiple sclerosis (MS).
These 15 tips can get you started on your journey to living well.
MS is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. It can cause a wide range of symptoms, which vary from person to person. There are several different types of MS and each requires a different treatment plan.
Learning everything you can about your diagnosis is the first step you can take to effectively manage your condition. A doctor can provide you with informational pamphlets about MS, or you can read about it from organizations like the National MS Society.
Finding out the facts and clarifying any misconceptions about MS may give you a greater sense of your options as you manage your diagnosis.
Scientists are also learning more and more about MS each day. So, it’s essential to stay up-to-date as new treatments make their way through the pipeline.
The National MS Society is a good resource for finding new clinical trials in your area. Trials help researchers determine if new treatments are safe and effective. Participation in a clinical trial is a very personal decision.
In addition to helping scientists uncover new treatments or combinations of treatments, there are other benefits to participating in clinical trials.
Participation in some sponsored clinical trials may be free of cost. People who haven’t received satisfactory results from traditional treatments can explore new drug combinations or drugs that have been previously approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat other conditions.
You can find a comprehensive listing of all past, present, and future clinical trials on ClinicalTrials.gov. If you find a clinical trial in your area that interests you, speak with a doctor to find out whether you could be a candidate.
Exercise can improve muscle strength and fitness, improve posture, and reduce pain and fatigue in people with MS. Low-to-moderate aerobic exercise can improve heart health and reduce fatigue.
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There are many ways to stay active, and doing what works for you is sometimes the best place to start. Here are some ideas:
- general physical activity like gardening, cooking, walking a dog
- adaptive sports or recreational opportunities at a local community center
- swimming, which allows for a range of movement that may not be possible on land
- yoga for balance, flexibility, and stress reduction
- resistance bands or light weights for muscle strength
No matter what activity you choose, prioritize your safety first. You may want to talk with a doctor about which options to try.
Practicing good sleep hygiene can give you a leg up when it comes to battling MS fatigue.
Here are some tried and true ways to help you get more restful sleep:
- Establish a bedtime routine. For example, take a warm bath and listen to soothing music right before bed.
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Avoid bright screens before bedtime, and consider dimming the lights as you get closer to bedtime if it’s possible and safe for you to do so.
- Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening.
You don’t have to go through this diagnosis alone. If you’d like to connect with others living with MS, consider joining a group like Bezzy MS.
Bezzy MS is a safe place for you to share your concerns through online forums. You can connect with others who may be going through some of the same experiences as you. Bezzy MS also has stories, information, and a forum.
MS support groups can connect you with other people living with MS and help you establish a network for exchanging ideas, new research, and good vibes.
You can also join a volunteer program or activist group. You may find that participation in these types of organizations can be incredibly empowering.
MS is a lifelong condition, so it’s important to be under the care of an MS specialist who is a good match for you. A primary care doctor can refer you to a team of other healthcare professionals to help you manage all of your symptoms.
The healthcare professionals you may choose to see as part of a multidisciplinary team can include:
- a neurologist who specializes in MS
- a neuropsychologist to help manage cognitive function, like memory, focus, information processing, and problem-solving
- a physical therapist to work on overall strength, joint range of motion, coordination, and gross motor skills
- a psychologist or mental health counselor to help you cope with the diagnosis and living with MS
- an occupational therapist, who can give you the tools to perform day-to-day tasks more efficiently
- a social worker to assist with finding financial resources, entitlements, and community-provided services
- a dietitian or nutritionist to help you maintain a healthy diet
- a speech-language pathologist if you’re having problems with speech, swallowing, or breathing
Your diet is an important tool when it comes to living well with MS. While there’s no miracle diet for treating MS, consider aiming for a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein.
It’s also important to eat well in order to avoid gaining weight. Researchers have seen an association between obesity and MS symptoms.
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Here are some other diet tips to consider:
- Eat a low-fat or plant-based diet. A
2016 studyfound that people with MS who adhered to a very low-fat, plant-based diet had improvements in their fatigue levels after 12 months. However, it didn’t show improvements in relapse rates or disability levels, so more research is needed.
- Get enough fiber. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the
recommendedintake is at least 25 grams of fiber each day for women aged 31 to 50 and 31 grams of fiber each day for men in the same age range. This helps promote good bowel function.
- Reduce alcohol consumption. Alcohol can affect balance and coordination in negative ways, and also increase the need to urinate. Drinking can also interfere with some MS medications.
- Drink enough water. Many people with MS limit water intake to manage bladder issues. Dehydration from lack of water can lead to higher rates of fatigue. A
2016 studyfound that low hydration was actually more common in participants with bladder dysfunction. Those with high levels of hydration had lower rates of fatigue.
- Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Examples include fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, soybeans, canola oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, and sunflower oil. A 2021 systematic
review of studiesfound omega-3 and fish oil supplements may help reduce relapse rate and inflammation and improve quality of life for people with MS.
Household tasks can seem overwhelming, but you don’t have to do them all at once. You can divide things up to make them more manageable. For example, make a reasonable schedule for home repairs and errands like cleaning the yard and replacing HVAC filters, so they’re done over several weeks instead of a weekend.
Only clean one room a day or divide it up into smaller time segments throughout the day, with rest periods in between. Depending on your symptoms, you can get cleaning done on your own, but make sure to you take steps to avoid hurting yourself in the process.
Plan out weekly meals and freeze portions for use on later days. Try out small tools for the kitchen that can make ordinary tasks easier and safer. For example, you may want to purchase a jar opener that makes opening up a vacuum-sealed jar lid a breeze.
Try to think strategically about how your home and workplace are set up.
You might need to make some adjustments to suit your needs. For example, consider storing the kitchen tools that you use every day on the counter and in the most easy-to-reach cabinets. You may want to place heavy electric appliances, like blenders, on the countertop so you don’t have to move them around often.
Rearrange or get rid of furniture, rugs, and decor that take up too much floor space or could trip you. Consider de-cluttering to reduce cleaning time.
You can also talk with your employer to see whether they’ll provide ergonomic equipment to make your workday easier. Examples can include glare protection on computer screens. It may also help to move your workstation to an accessible location — closer to the entrance, restrooms, and other essential areas.
MS can cause symptoms like memory loss and issues concentrating. This can make it difficult to remember day-to-day tasks, like appointments and when to take your medication.
Use the technology you already have to make things easier. Most smartphones have phone apps and tools to help you work around memory challenges. You can see your calendar, take notes, make lists, and set alerts and reminders.
Many people with MS find that they’re sensitive to heat exposure. When your body temperature rises, your symptoms may worsen. Even just a slight temperature increase can impair nerve impulses enough to cause symptoms. This experience actually has its own name — Uhthoff’s phenomenon.
Try to keep yourself cool by avoiding hot showers and baths. Use air conditioning in your home and stay out of the sun when possible. You can also try wearing a cooling vest or neck wrap.
It’s important to take your medications on time. Forgetting to take a medication or refill a prescription can have major consequences on your day-to-day life.
To avoid this issue, consider setting up auto-refills for your prescriptions with your local pharmacy. You can have the pharmacy text or call you to let you know that your prescription is ready for pick up. Many pharmacies can even mail your prescriptions in advance.
Managing life in the workplace can pose a challenge for people with MS. If you’re living with a new diagnosis, take some time to do a bit of research, such as about potential workplace accommodations.
This can involve a discussion between you and your employer and may include everything from physical accommodations like grab bars in restrooms to telecommuting arrangements.
Travel can be a wonderful way to enjoy life’s pleasures. This is entirely possible if you live with MS. The National MS Society has these tips for making your next getaway the best it can be:
- pre-arrange assistance at the airport
- pack extra medication and back it up with documentation like doctor’s notes
- confirm the accessibility status of hotels and attractions at your destination
- schedule breaks and rest days during your trip
Having water and healthy snacks on hand can also help make your visits more comfortable, along with traveling during cooler months.
Although there’s no cure for MS right now, newer treatments can help slow down the disease. Research is being conducted to improve treatments and reduce disease progression.
If you’re having a hard time managing your life with MS, consider meeting with a psychologist or a mental health counselor to discuss your needs.
Life after a diagnosis of MS can be overwhelming. Some days, your symptoms might prevent you from doing what you love or leave you feeling emotionally drained.
While some days may be difficult, it’s still possible to live well with MS by implementing some of the above changes into your life.