Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition that affects more than
There’s no cure for MS, but those living with the condition typically have long, productive lives. Advances in treatment have helped make MS a more manageable condition. While MS may still cause challenges, starting available treatments early can help improve your symptoms and disease progression.
MS can cause numerous symptoms that vary from person to person. Since symptoms are often mistaken for other illnesses or conditions, MS can be hard to diagnose.
There’s no single test to diagnose MS. According to the National MS Society, doctors rely on evidence from a few sources.
To definitively state that symptoms are the result of MS, doctors must find evidence of damage in at least two distinct areas of the central nervous system and find evidence that the damage happened at different times.
Doctors must also confirm that other conditions aren’t responsible for the symptoms.
The tools doctors use to diagnose MS include:
- comprehensive medical history
- neurologic exam
- MRI scan
- evoked potential (EP) test
- spinal fluid analysis
The MRI can confirm MS even if a person has had only one incident of damage to or attack on the nervous system.
The EP test measures the brain’s response to stimuli, which can show whether the nerve pathways are slowing.
Similarly, a spinal fluid analysis may support an MS diagnosis even if it’s not clear that attacks occurred at two different points in time.
A doctor may still perform additional tests to eliminate the possibility of other diseases. Typically these extra tests are blood tests to rule out Lyme disease, HIV, hereditary disorders, or collagen vascular diseases.
MS is an unpredictable disease with no cure. No two people experience the same symptoms, progression, or response to treatment. This makes it difficult to predict the course of the condition.
It’s important to remember that MS isn’t fatal. Most people with MS have a typical life expectancy. Around 66% of people with MS can walk and remain able to walk as the disease progresses. However, some may need a cane or other aid to make walking easier because of fatigue or balance issues.
Approximately 85% of people with MS are diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). This type of MS is characterized by less severe symptoms and long periods of remission.
Many people with this MS form can live with very little disruption or medical treatment.
A number of those with RRMS will eventually progress to secondary progressive MS. This progression often happens at least 10 to 25 years after an initial RRMS diagnosis.
Some symptoms of MS are more common than others. Symptoms of MS may also change over time or from one relapse to another.
Possible symptoms of MS can include:
- 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 the disease is under control, it’s possible to experience attacks (also called relapses or exacerbations). Medication can help limit the number and severity of attacks.
People with MS can also experience extended periods with no relapses.
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 its progression
- management of relapses by limiting the frequency and severity of the attacks
- treatment of the symptoms associated with MS
At least 23 disease-modifying drug therapies have been approved by the FDA for treating MS.
If you’ve recently received an MS diagnosis, a doctor will likely advise you to immediately start one of these medications.
MS can cause several symptoms, ranging in severity. A doctor will treat these symptoms 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 counselors.
If you’re newly diagnosed with MS, you may want to know more about whether the condition will interfere with your current lifestyle. Most people with MS are able to keep living productive lives.
Here’s a closer look at how different areas of your lifestyle could be affected by an MS diagnosis.
Staying active is encouraged by MS experts. According to a
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
If you have an MS diagnosis and have difficulty staying active, consider seeing a physical therapist. Physical therapy may help you gain the strength and stability you need to be active.
A well-balanced, healthy diet is recommended to help manage symptoms and promote overall health.
There’s no special diet for people living with MS. However, most recommendations suggest:
- avoiding highly processed food and food high in added sugars
- eating a variety of colorful produce
- opting for whole grains over refined grains
A diet low in saturated fats and rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Low vitamin D has been associated with a higher risk of developing MS, as well as worsening of the disease and increased relapses.
It’s always important to discuss your dietary choices with your doctor.
Many people who live with MS can work and have full, active careers. A
- monetary income
- access to health insurance
- identity fulfillment
- social participation
However, working with MS has challenges as well. A higher number of people with MS are unemployed or employed part-time. Increasing age and disease severity can also impact a person’s career.
Symptoms may change throughout one’s working life. People with MS can face diverse challenges depending on the nature of their work and their employers’ flexibility.
The National MS Society has a step-by-step guide to inform people about their legal rights at work and help them make employment decisions following an MS diagnosis.
An occupational therapist can also help you make the appropriate modifications to continue your daily activities at work and home.
Having health insurance can help cover the cost of medical visits and prescription medications.
However, a 2016 review found that many people with MS, still, on average, pay thousands of dollars out of pocket annually.
These costs were largely linked to the price of the drugs that help people with MS to manage the condition. Rehabilitation, home, and car modifications can also pose a significant financial burden, according to the National MS Society.
This can pose a major challenge to families, particularly if the person is also making changes to their working life due to an MS diagnosis.
The National MS Society has resources to help people with MS plan their finances and get assistance for items like mobility aids.
Connecting with others who are living with MS can be a way to find support, inspiration, and information. People with MS can join Bezzy MS, a free online community for peer support, to get to know others with MS.
The National MS Society website has a search feature to help you find local support groups.
Doctors and nurses may also be able to direct you to resources and local support. They may have relationships with local organizations that support the MS community.
MS is a complex condition that affects individuals differently. People living with MS have access to more research, support, and treatment options than ever before. Starting MS treatment early can help improve your symptoms and slow the progression of your MS.
Reaching out and connecting with others with MS either locally or online can help you receive support with your diagnosis.