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I’ve Been Diagnosed with MS – Now What?

By Daryl H. Bryant (798 words)
Posted in Living with MS on January 13, 2015

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I’ve Been Diagnosed with MS – Now What?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can be a debilitating disease of the central nervous system. The myelin sheaths protecting the nerve endings in the brain and the spinal cord slowly erode, leaving the nerves exposed and causing physical damage throughout the body. However, the symptoms manifest differently for each patient.

You may notice a loss of sensation in your limbs, lose vision in one or both eyes, or experience any number of physical changes that can leave you confused, exhausted, and depressed. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with MS, you may be familiar with these emotions. You may feel overwhelmed by your symptoms, and the social and emotional changes your diagnosis brings to your daily routines can be a stressor all its own.

You may not know where to turn or where to find pertinent information regarding your unique symptoms. However, after finding out you have MS, it is important to learn as much as you can about the disease and the different treatment options available. The following steps can help you get a better understanding of your diagnosis and reduce the stress caused by uncertainty and confusion.

Learn as much as you can

First and foremost, learn as much as you can about your diagnosis. Because MS affects each patient differently, understanding where the disease manifests in your body will help you understand your symptoms. Your doctor can provide you with most of the information you seek, but talking with a neurology specialist can get you better acquainted with how MS is directly affecting your nervous system.

But beyond doctors and medicine, seeking knowledge from your peers is also empowering. Join online message boards and support groups to learn how to work through symptom outbreaks and how to communicate with friends and family regarding your diagnosis. Support groups are also there to help you find new hobbies and activities that can keep your lifestyle active and enjoyable, which are also an important aspect of managing your symptoms.

Track symptoms and avoid triggers

The easiest way to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle is to learn how to track your symptoms. As you learn more about your disease, you’ll become better acquainted with your symptoms and what triggers them. Sometimes, changes in temperature can set off an outbreak. Other times, it might be dietary changes, sleep disruption, or over-excitement that can cause symptoms to manifest. More often than not, symptoms will appear at random and disappear just as quickly.

Because symptom outbreaks can be unpredictable, keeping track of them will help you and your doctor understand the progression of the disease. Keep a notebook and write down when and how long symptoms appeared and what you did to alleviate them. Be sure to bring this notebook with you to each doctor’s appointment so that you can discuss possible changes to treatment procedures. Keeping track of your symptoms will give you more control over your diagnosis, meaning you’ll have more time for the things that really matter.

Explore alternative treatment methods

After your diagnosis, discuss with your doctor the different treatment methods that are available to you. Prescription drugs, taken orally or intravenously, have proven successful at preventing symptom outbreaks and relapses, but you may find that the side effects of some of these drugs hinder your lifestyle.

That’s why it is important to explore alternative treatments and drugs to manage MS. Alternative treatment methods are often combined with prescriptions in order to reduce both the symptoms and the side effects. Massage is one of the most popular treatment methods for those with MS, as it reduces tension and numbness in limbs and muscles. Yoga and Tai Chi are also used to stretch sore and numb muscles, and they can provide an all-around sense of relaxation that can reduce symptoms wrought on by stress.

Include your family and friends

Finally, as you learn more about your diagnosis, your symptoms, and your treatment options, it is important to share and discuss this information with your loved ones. You can decide when, how, and to whom you disclose your diagnosis.

Telling employers and coworkers is different than telling family and friends, and you may choose to tell family before anyone else. It is always important to keep an open line of communication between you and those closest to you as they can offer emotional support, physical support, and advice.

Keeping family informed will give you soundboards for discussing treatment options, and you can turn to them when you have questions or concerns you don’t feel comfortable talking about with anyone else.

It is important to remain hopeful and optimistic during this time as you will be overwhelmed by symptoms, medications, and treatments. Join a support group for advice and never be afraid to ask questions. Knowledge is power when it comes to living with MS, so continue to learn so you can continue to combat the disease.

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