Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease. It damages myelin, a fatty protective substance that wraps around nerve cells. When your nerve cells, or axons, are exposed from damage, you may experience symptoms.
The most common symptoms of MS include:
- difficulty with balance and coordination
- blurred vision
- speech impairment
- pain and tingling
- muscle stiffness
As a result of the damage, your body’s electric impulses can’t move as easily through the exposed nerves as they could through protected nerves. Your MS symptoms can become worse over time as the damage worsens.
If you recently received an MS diagnosis, you may have questions about what the future holds for you and your family. Considering the what-if scenarios of a life with MS can help you prepare for what’s ahead and plan for potential changes.
MS is typically a progressive disease. The most common type of MS is relapsing-remitting MS. With this type, you may experience periods of increased symptoms, known as relapses. Then, you’ll have periods of recovery called remission.
MS is unpredictable, though. The rate at which MS progresses or worsens is different for everyone. Try not to compare yourself and your experience to anyone else’s. The list of possible MS symptoms is long, but it’s unlikely you’ll experience all of them.
A healthy lifestyle, including a good diet, regular exercise, and adequate rest, may help slow the progression of MS. Caring for your body may help extend periods of remission and make relapse periods easier to handle.
Not everyone with MS will lose their ability to walk. In fact, two-thirds of people with MS are still able to walk. But you may need a cane, crutches, or walker to help you maintain balance when moving or provide rest when you’re tired.
At some point, the symptoms of MS may lead you and your team of healthcare providers to consider a wheelchair or other assistance device. These aids can help you get around safely without worrying about falling or injuring yourself.
You may face new challenges in the workplace as a result of MS and the effect it can have on your body. These challenges may be temporary, such as during a period of relapse. They may also become permanent as the disease progresses and if your symptoms don’t go away.
Whether you’ll be able to continue working after a diagnosis depends on a few factors. This includes your overall health, the severity of your symptoms, and what type of work you do. But many individuals with MS are able to continue working without altering their career path or changing jobs.
You may want to consider working with an occupational therapist as you return to work. These experts can help you learn strategies for coping with symptoms or complications due to your job. They can also make sure you’re still able to perform the duties of your job.
An MS diagnosis doesn’t mean you need to live a sedentary life. Many doctors encourage their patients to remain active. Plus, some studies have shown that people with MS who follow an exercise program may improve their quality of life and ability to function.
Still, you may need to make adjustments to your activities. This is especially true during relapse periods. An assistance device, such as a cane or crutches, may be necessary to help you maintain your balance.
Don’t give up on your favorite things. Staying active can help you maintain a positive outlook and avoid excess stress, anxiety, or depression.
Sexual intimacy may be far from your mind following an MS diagnosis. But at some point, you may wonder how the disease affects your ability to be intimate with a partner.
MS can impact your sexual response and sex drive in several ways. You may experience a lower libido. Women may have reduced vaginal lubrication and be unable to reach orgasm. Men may also struggle to achieve erection or may find ejaculation difficult or impossible. Other MS symptoms, including sensory changes, may make sex uncomfortable or less pleasurable.
However, you can still connect with your loved one in meaningful ways — whether through a physical or emotional connection.
The effects of MS vary greatly from person to person. What you experience may be different from what another person experiences, so your future with MS can be impossible to predict.
Over time, it’s possible that your specific MS diagnosis may lead to a gradual decline in function. But there’s no clear path to if or when you’ll reach that point.
While there’s no cure for MS, your doctor will likely prescribe medication to reduce your symptoms and delay progression. There have been many newer treatments in recent years that produce promising results. Starting treatment early may help prevent nerve damage, which could slow the development of new symptoms.
You can also help slow the rate of disability by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Get regular exercise and eat a healthy diet to care for your body. Also, avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. Caring for your body as best you can may help you remain active and minimize your symptoms for as long as possible.
Following an MS diagnosis, you may have dozens of questions about what your future will look like. While the course of MS can be difficult to predict, you can take steps now to reduce your symptoms and slow progression of the disease. Learning as much as you can about your diagnosis, getting on treatment right away, and making lifestyle changes can help you effectively manage your MS.