7 Things You Need to Know About Multiple Sclerosis

Early Treatment with an Effective Disease-Modifying Therapy (DMT) is Crucial for Those with Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Minimizing MS Flare-Ups

MS Brain

You can think about multiple sclerosis (MS) kind of like the coronavirus: It’s completely unpredictable. None of us – not the doctor or the person with the disease – has a crystal ball. We have no idea how MS will affect you 20 years down the road.

That’s why, if you have a relapsing form of MS, the most important thing is early treatment with an effective disease-modifying therapy (DMT). Let’s dive into the details!

Chapter 1: Why Early Treatment is Key

You should start or stay on a DMT even if you think you’re doing fine. Some people want to go the natural route if they only have a relapse here or there. But no amount of exercise, vitamin D, or sun exposure is going to curtail your disease path. The only thing that’s proven to do that is disease-modifying therapy.

We also know that the brain of someone with MS shrinks at a faster rate than it would for somebody matched in age, gender, and lifestyle. DMTs are critical in slowing that process, especially when the disease is in its early stages.

Chapter 2: Finding the Right Treatment

There are lots of DMTs out there, but not all are created equal. Some work better than others. For example, natalizumab, a drug that suppresses your immune system, is one of the most effective medications we have for relapsing forms of MS. You get it through a vein in your arm every 4 weeks. I’ve never seen someone have a relapse on it. And it doesn’t have daily side effects. However, it does come with a serious warning.

If you take natalizumab and you have antibodies against the JC virus, it raises the chances you’ll get a rare brain infection that might kill you. It’s called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). But doctors check for these antibodies regularly, every 6 months, to ensure the medication’s safety.

It’s important to see a specialist, even if it’s just once a year or at the onset of your diagnosis. They’ll help you navigate the best treatment based on your unique circumstances and preferences.

Chapter 3: When to Switch Drugs

Knowing when to switch drugs is crucial. If you have a relapse, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about finding a new medicine. However, it’s important to differentiate between a true relapse and a flare of an old lesion. A relapse usually shows up as symptoms you’ve never had before and lingers for more than a day. A flare, on the other hand, is when old symptoms get worse, often in specific situations like stress or heat.

If you aren’t sure, it’s always a good idea to call your doctor when your symptoms last more than 24 hours.

Chapter 4: Steroids and Their Role

Steroids may provide temporary relief for MS symptoms, but they don’t change the course of the disease or prevent future flares. It’s crucial to understand that steroids only speed up symptom resolution. Instead of waiting a year to be 90% better on your own, steroids can help you reach that point in just 6 weeks.

Chapter 5: Managing Flares Through Alternative Methods

In addition to traditional treatments, alternative methods like meditation, yoga, or acupuncture can help manage flares. Yoga, for instance, can be a beneficial activity for people with MS. There are various programs available, including “Betsy the Banana: A Cosmic Kids Yoga Adventure!” which offers gentle stretches without requiring any awkward positions.

Chapter 6: The Rise of Telehealth

Telehealth is revolutionizing the way we approach medical care, including MS management. Virtual visits are a good way to meet with a doctor before your first examination, especially if you’re located far away. Certain apps, such as BeCare Link, can even detect subtle changes in motor functions, providing valuable data for assessment.

However, telehealth has its limitations and cannot evaluate new symptoms. If you experience new or concerning symptoms, it’s important to visit your doctor in person for a comprehensive evaluation.

Chapter 7: When and How Often to Follow Up

Regular follow-up visits with your doctor are essential in managing MS effectively. The frequency of these visits depends on the stability of your condition. If you’re under 65 and your condition isn’t stable, you should aim for visits every 3 months. For stable patients under 65, visits every 6 months are typically sufficient. If you’re over 65 and your condition has been stable for 5 years without changing drugs, annual visits are generally satisfactory.

Brain imaging, such as an MRI, is often performed annually, even in the absence of new symptoms. Detecting silent lesions early allows for proactive adjustments in treatment to stay ahead of the disease.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

By Sharon Stoll, DO, as told to Keri Wiginton

Q&A: Your Burning Questions About Multiple Sclerosis

Q: Are there any natural remedies that can effectively manage MS symptoms?

While natural remedies and lifestyle changes have their benefits, like maintaining overall health and well-being, they cannot substitute disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) for managing MS. The most effective way to slow down the disease progression is through early treatment with DMTs, which have been extensively studied and proven to be effective.

Q: I’m concerned about the potential side effects of medications for MS. How can I find the right balance between effectiveness and side effects?

It’s crucial to have an open and honest conversation with your doctor about potential side effects when considering different medications. Every patient is unique, and what works for one person may not work or be suitable for another. By working closely with your healthcare provider, you can find the right balance between effectiveness and side effects based on your individual circumstances and medical history.

Q: Can alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, help alleviate MS symptoms?

Alternative therapies like acupuncture may offer symptom relief and help manage stress for some individuals with MS. However, it’s important to note that these therapies should not replace traditional medical treatments. Always consult with your medical team before starting any alternative therapies to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your condition.

Q: What are the latest advancements in MS research?

The field of MS research is constantly evolving. Some recent advancements include the development of more personalized treatments tailored to individual patients based on their specific disease characteristics. Additionally, there are ongoing studies exploring the role of stem cell therapy and gene therapy in treating MS. Stay informed by following reputable research organizations and discussing new advancements with your healthcare provider.

Q: How can I support a loved one with MS?

Supporting someone with MS involves understanding their needs and being there for them emotionally and physically. Educate yourself about the disease, listen to their concerns, and offer practical assistance when needed. Providing a supportive and non-judgmental environment can greatly impact their overall well-being.

Q: Can diet play a role in managing MS symptoms?

While there is no specific MS diet, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is important for overall well-being. Some evidence suggests that certain dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, may have potential benefits for individuals with MS. However, further research is needed to fully understand the impact of diet on MS symptoms. Consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider to develop a personalized diet plan that suits your individual needs.

Q: Is it safe to exercise with MS? How can physical activity affect the disease?

Exercise is generally safe and highly encouraged for individuals with MS. Regular physical activity can help improve strength, balance, mood, and overall quality of life. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate exercise program for your specific abilities and needs. They can provide guidance on exercises that are safe and beneficial for managing MS symptoms.

🔍 References:

  1. MS & Ancient DNA: Holds clues to origins and genetic risk
  2. The Role of Exercise in Multiple Sclerosis
  3. Multiple Sclerosis Diet