It’s understandable when patients with multiple sclerosis focus only on treating symptoms and forget their bodies have other needs, but that’s not the best course of action.
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“A therapeutic approach that incorporates a variety of wellness strategies along with treatment recommendations will help MS patients feel their best,” says Devon Conway, MD, a neurologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research.
Around 400,000 Americans have MS, a neurological condition that affects women nearly two times more often than men. With the exception of trauma, MS is the most frequent cause of neurological disability beginning in early to middle adulthood.
There are ways to control common symptoms of MS, such as spasticity, fatigue, pain, depression, cognitive problems, tremor, and bladder and bowel disorders. Dr. Conway says that keeping additional conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol in check will help produce better outcomes. Of course, patients should consult with their physicians before beginning any new treatment strategies.
How to manage symptoms
Dr. Conway offers these wellness-focused tips to help manage MS symptoms:
- Avoid negative health behaviors such as smoking and drinking excess alcohol. Mellen Center research shows that smoking seems to hasten the progression of MS, and MS medications may interact negatively with alcohol.
- Create a health maintenance management plan with your physician. It’s important for people with MS to get regular checkups, immunizations, and routine screening tests such as Pap smears, mammograms and prostate exams. MS patients also have an increased chance of osteoporosis, so they may benefit from calcium and vitamin D supplementation.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, less red meat and fewer carbohydrates and fatty foods. “There is not clear evidence that a specific type of diet will help to prevent MS relapses or disability accumulation,” says Dr. Conway. “However, patients who maintain their overall general health tend to do better. I typically recommend a diet low in saturated fats.”
- Exercise is good for you. Dr. Conway recommends that patients with MS get a good balance of cardio activity as well as strength training. Patients who are more physically fit at baseline are better able to compensate if they develop disability from MS. “I would say that exercise can be challenging in MS because of the motor deficits that can occur, as well as the fatigue associated with the disease,” he says. “Trying to stay active and fit from the very beginning will help to manage these problems.”
- Feeling tired all the time? Check with your doctor to rule out hypothyroidism, anemia or vitamin deficiencies, Dr. Conway says. If you snore at night and wake up not feeling refreshed, it may be reasonable to get a sleep study to exclude the possibility of sleep apnea.
- Keep doing the hobbies and activities you enjoy. Gardening, needlework, crafts or just spending time with family and friends can help reduce stress and improve your general well-being. “Engaging your mind through activities such as reading and crossword puzzles may also help to reduce memory and other cognitive complaints that can develop later in the disease course,” says Dr. Conway.