Managing the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that impacts the central nervous system and is potentially disabling. In people who are diagnosed with MS, the symptoms, severity, and disease progress can be unpredictable. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that a majority of people who are diagnosed with this condition are diagnosed when they are between the ages of 20 and 50. According to the Cleveland Clinic, multiple sclerosis affects an estimated 400,000 people in the U.S. and 2.5 million worldwide. Since there is no cure for MS, the focus is on managing its symptoms.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which your body’s immune system attacks the protective lining around your nerves called the myelin sheath. This causes signaling problems because the information that is carried by your nerves can be interrupted. Over time, multiple sclerosis can permanently damage your nerves or cause them to deteriorate.

Symptoms and Causes

The symptoms of MS that you might experience will depend on the part of your central nervous system that is affected by the disease. The most frequently occurring early signs of MS include the following symptoms:

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Stumbling or difficulty walking
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Difficulties concentrating or think as quickly as normal
  • Vision problems

According to the Mayo Clinic, scientists are unsure what causes MS to develop. While there is no known cause, there are several theories about what might cause the disease, including the following:

  • Immune system abnormalities
  • Genetics
  • Low levels of vitamin D when still a child
  • Being of Northern European descent
  • Certain childhood viral infections

While scientists have discovered a gene defect that may be related to MS, simply having the defect does not mean that you will develop the disease. Instead, researchers believe that something in the environment likely triggers the disease in some people.

Common Treatment Options

Since there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, the treatment of the disease is focused on helping you to recover from attacks more quickly and on slowing the disease’s progress.

For attacks of MS, you may be given intravenous methylprednisolone or oral prednisone. These drugs are corticosteroids that help to reduce the inflammation of the nerves. If you are newly diagnosed, have severe symptoms and have not responded to steroid treatments, you may be treated with plasmapheresis. During this process, your blood is drawn, and the plasma is separated out. Your blood cells are then mixed with a protein solution called albumin before being reinjected into your body.

The treatment that you might receive to slow the progression of your MS will depend on the type of the disease that you have. If you are diagnosed with primary-progressive MS, the only approved drug by the FDA for this form of the disease is a drug called ocrelizumab or Ocrevus. If you have relapsing-remitting MS, there are a number of progression-slowing options available to you, including the following:

  • Beta inferons
  • Ocrevus
  • Copaxone
  • Tecfedira
  • Gilenya
  • Aubagio
  • Tysabri
  • Lemtrada
  • Mitoxtantrone

To treat the symptoms of MS, your doctor may also recommend physical therapy and mobility devices. You may also be prescribed muscle relaxers such as Zanaflex or Lioresal to help your muscles to relax. Medications may also be prescribed to help to reduce the amount of fatigue that you feel and for bowel and bladder control issues that are common for people who have MS.

Alternative and Complementary Treatments

Some alternative treatments have been shown to help to reduce the symptoms of MS. Some of these include the following complementary treatments:

  • Regular exercise to help you to strengthen your muscles
  • Vitamin D supplementation to help to slow the progression of the disease
  • Meditation, massage, yoga, or tai chi to reduce stress and to increase relaxation
  • Acupressure and acupuncture to help to reduce pain
  • Medical cannabis to reduce pain if you live in a state in which it is legal

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

Changing your lifestyle may help you to manage your MS symptoms more effectively. This includes remaining active. When you regularly engage in exercise, you can enjoy improved balance and flexibility. If it is possible, you should try to exercise five days per week. You should also engage in activities that help you to exercise your brain such as crossword puzzles, word games, and reading. Make certain to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Good nutrition for people who have multiple sclerosis is important. While there is not a disease-specific diet, doctors recommend that you make sure to eat a diet that is rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy and low-fat protein sources. There are also certain foods that you should avoid so that you can prolong the time that you have between MS attacks. Doctors recommend that you avoid saturated fats that are found in red meat and full-fat dairy products. You should also avoid foods that contain trans fats such as commercially prepared pies, crackers, and cookies. You should also try to reduce or eliminate your sugar intake. Watching your sodium intake may also help you to reduce your MS attacks. Finally, doctors recommend that people with MS avoid refined grains and instead choose whole grains. Since people with MS also have a higher incidence of celiac disease, you may need to eliminate gluten from your diet altogether and choose gluten-free bread.

Multiple sclerosis is a lifelong disease that does not have a cure. However, there are multiple treatments that can help you to manage your symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. If you also incorporate alternative treatments and lifestyle changes, you may be able to enjoy a healthier life and to maintain your mobility for a longer period of time.

SewCream / Shutterstock
SewCream / Shutterstock