Multiple sclerosis (MS) doesn’t necessarily increase your risk of contracting the 2019 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which can lead to the development of COVID-19.
But there are certain considerations that could make you more likely to develop COVID-19 or have complications from the illness.
Continue reading as we explore these risk factors and what to do if you test positive for COVID-19.
Having MS doesn’t increase your risk of contracting the 2019 coronavirus.
Some disease-modifying drugs (DMTs) for MS alter or suppress the immune system and can leave you more susceptible to infection and complications.
Also, steroids are sometimes used to fight inflammation due to MS relapse. Steroids can also suppress the immune system and make it harder to fight infection.
This doesn’t mean you should stop taking your medication. Talk to your doctor about your specific treatment plan as it relates to MS and your risk for contracting the 2019 coronavirus and developing COVID-19.
Other factors that may increase your risk
Additional factors, such as being over age 60, can increase your risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
- progressive MS or high level of disability
- severe symptoms involving swallowing or clearing the lungs
- BMI of 30 or higher
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- asthma or another lung disease
MS is an autoimmune disorder, so fighting off infection can cause MS symptoms to flare up.
A telehealth visit with your doctor can ease concerns
Researchers are still learning about COVID-19 and how it affects people with underlying health conditions. Everyone’s situation is different.
With so many considerations, it’s wise to arrange a telehealth visit with your doctor to discuss your MS treatment plan and the best ways to minimize your risk for exposure to the 2019 coronavirus.
If you test positive, you should immediately isolate at home and speak with your doctor.
Unless you have serious complications, you shouldn’t need hospitalization. Stay home as much as possible. If you live with others:
- Stay in a separate room.
- When you can’t maintain separation, everyone in the household should wear a mask and practice frequent handwashing.
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Discard tissues in a lined container for safe disposal and immediately wash your hands.
- Don’t share household items. Kitchen items and linens should be thoroughly disinfected after use.
- All surfaces should be disinfected frequently.
Check to see if you have everything you need on hand as far as food, medication, and other essential supplies. If you need assistance getting supplies, talk to your doctor.
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation has grants and programs to help with everyday needs.
Take care of yourself
As you would with any viral infection, get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.
Even if you lose your appetite and sense of taste, make sure you eat enough to get essential nutrients.
Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications for pain, cough, or high fever.
A viral infection can cause MS symptoms, such as fatigue, weakness, or balance issues, to flare up. Symptoms usually resolve once you clear the infection.
Keep your doctor in the loop
Report new or worsening symptoms of COVID-19 or MS. If an in-person visit or hospitalization is required, your doctor will provide instructions on where to go and how to do so safely.
Know the warning signs
While many cases are mild to moderate, COVID-19 can quickly become life threatening. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number if you have:
- trouble breathing
- chest pain or pressure
- bluish lips or face
- high-grade fever
Be sure to inform emergency responders that you have COVID-19 and MS.
It’s not safe to end isolation until all these conditions have been met:
- You’ve had no fever for 3 days without using fever reducers.
- You’re no longer coughing or have shortness of breath.
- It’s been 14 days or longer since symptoms first appeared.
Another way to know it’s safe is to have 2 negative tests in a row separated by at least 24 hours.
This isn’t always possible where there’s limited testing and long wait times for results. If you’re unsure about ending isolation, ask your doctor.
Limiting time in close contact with others is an important tool to prevent contracting the 2019 coronavirus. Others are:
- Wear a mask in public, making sure it completely covers your nose and mouth.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth.
- Keep 6 feet (2 meters) from others in public.
- Carry hand sanitizer whenever you leave the house.
- Avoid large gatherings, especially indoors.
- Use telehealth instead of in-person visits whenever possible.
- Work from home if possible.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
Of course, frequent and thorough handwashing is important for you and everyone in your household.
Autoimmune disorders such as MS can flare up in times of stress. Lack of social interaction and trying to prevent contracting the 2019 coronavirus and developing COVID-19 can add even more stress.
Here are some tips for taking care of your mental health.
- Maintain relationships. Phone calls and virtual visits can help keep you connected. Use technology to stay in touch.
- Get online support. MS doesn’t stop for a pandemic. If you don’t already have one, consider joining an online MS community. Check out support resources at the National MS Society and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.
Researchshows a positive association between exercise and the mental health of people with MS. Even with physical limitations, some exercise can help. Give yoga a try. It’s a low-impact exercise for your body and mind.
- Have fun. Get back to a neglected hobby or start a new one to get your creative juices flowing.
- Rejuvenate. When you feel tense, do some deep breathing, meditate, or get some fresh air. Allow time to de-stress.
- Structure your days. Keep the days from melting together by scheduling designated times for work, exercise, rest, play, etc.
- Stay on top of practical matters. Check supplies regularly to make sure you have enough food, medication, and other essentials so you’re not left scrambling at the last minute.
- Be informed. The pandemic is a rapidly changing situation, so choose reputable outlets for health information. Get the latest facts, but guard against overconsumption of news that can trap you in crisis mode.
Find a community that cares
There’s no reason to go through an MS diagnosis or long-term journey alone, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the free MS Healthline app, you can join a group and participate in live discussions, get matched with community members for a chance to make new friends, and stay up to date on the latest MS news and research.
The app is available on the App Store and Google Play. Download here.
MS is a chronic autoimmune disorder that doesn’t increase your chances of contracting the 2019 coronavirus and developing COVID-19.
However, some people with MS are at higher risk for developing COVID-19, though. Risk factors include:
- taking certain MS drugs
- high level of disability
- co-existing conditions
Viral infection can also trigger a flare-up of MS symptoms.
If you have MS, take precautions against contracting the 2019 coronavirus. which can lead to the development of COVID-19.
If you do develop the condition, it’s important to talk with your doctor and know the warning signs of serious complications, such as difficulty breathing and chest pain.
Keep taking your MS medications unless your doctor advises otherwise.