Tips for Managing Multiple Sclerosis
Receiving the news of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis can be scary and poses many challenges ahead for yourself and your loved ones. Although MScan be a debilitating disease with no known cure, many people go on to live long, healthy and fulfilling lives.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic and unpredictable disease but with the help of a healthy lifestyle, your medical team and treatments many people are able to live life as normal. Medications along with a healthy diet, good sleep practices and exercise help to slow down the progression and reduce pain and fatigue.
During the lead up to World Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Day on Monday May 30th 2022, we want to help spread awareness about the disease and the things you can implement into your daily routines to help you to live the most comfortable and joyful life possible.
How Does MS Affect Daily Life?
Some people can remain symptom free with MS for years. However when symptoms develop they can be both physically and mentally overwhelming. People with multiple sclerosis often experience chronic fatigue which can affect all aspects of their life. Including brain function, reduced productivity and the ability to partake in everyday and much loved activities.
A lot of people with MS experience a high prevalence of chronic pain which may stem from damaged nerves, poor gait mechanics or other structural abnormalities such as arthritis or spasticity. Pain is an often unrecognised symptom of MS, however it has the ability to cause major disruptions in daily living. It can lead to debilitating psychological functioning, decreased physical functioning, low mood, lack of sleep and cognitive impairment, all of which can affect the mental health of someone living with MS.
Other symptoms of multiple sclerosis can include:
- Physical weakness
- Balance and coordination problems
- Sensitivity to extreme temperatures
- Memory problems
- Numbness and tingling in extremities
- Trouble concentrating
- Impaired movement and muscle stiffness
- Impaired sleeping
Due to these symptoms, people with MS may find that their friendships, relationships and occupational status are greatly affected by the disease during the times when symptoms flare up.
How to Cope with Multiple Sclerosis
Research has shown that there are many treatments available and lifestyle choices that can help to reduce the symptoms associated with MS, to help you live the life you deserve.
Multiple sclerosis can be a frustrating and unpredictable condition. It’s hard to know when symptoms such as numbness, weakness, pain and fatigue will flare up and complicate your life. However, there are steps you can take to make dealing with MS that little bit easier.
We can all benefit from healthier lifestyle choices but it is especially significant for those with chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
How can I Improve My Quality of Life With Multiple Sclerosis?
Although MS is not directly caused by living an unhealthy lifestyle, studies show that people with a high body mass index (BMI) experience worse symptoms than those with a normal BMI. A better diet can also be beneficial for avoiding metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, increased blood pressure and insulin resistance that can lead to other chronic conditions and exacerbate MS symptoms.
A mediterranean diet is thought to be the best approach for the prevention and improvement of inflammation. It allows for the consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, lean meat, whole grains and some dairy. Saturated fats are kept to a minimum and oily fish increases the amount of neuroprotective omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D which have been shown to benefit those living with MS.
Studies show that regular, moderate physical exercise is good for the body, mind and mood. If you have MS, exercise is one of the most important aspects of your personal treatment. Consistent exercise can improve your fitness, endurance and strength in your arms and legs. It can also decrease fatigue, increase bowel function and boost your overall mood.
The exercise best suited to you will vary depending on your preference and severity of your condition. Speak to your doctor for recommendations on the different types of exercise that will benefit you. Whether it’s aerobic, yoga, tai chi, walking, swimming or cycling, find the exercise that you enjoy and make it part of your regular routine.
Promote good sleep
MS can cause sleep problems such as insomnia, nighttime urination, narcolepsy and leg spasms. Poor sleep also correlates with poor daytime cognitive ability and increased fatigue. Make sure you are getting the best possible sleep through healthy sleep habits. Some helpful practices you can incorporate into your routine will help you maintain good sleep hygiene:
- Create a relaxing and calming bedtime routine such as no screens, reading a book, calming music, or lighting.
- Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and exercise at least 4 hours before you plan to sleep.
- Stick to a schedule – go to sleep and wake up at a regular time each day.
- Absorb plenty of natural light during the day and keep your room dark at night.
- Invest in comfortable and supportive bedding.
- Keep any daytime naps to less than 40 minutes.
Reduce stress and anxiety
Unless you’re someone who thrives off the thrill of a demanding lifestyle, everyone wants to reduce their stress levels. This is all the more important for someone living with multiple sclerosis as stress can exacerbate MS symptoms. There are many effective medications that can aid in reducing your anxiety and stress levels, though these should be used in conjunction with a complete treatment plan to manage any unwanted side effects. There are also effective lifestyle modifications you can implement to decrease your stress and anxiety:
- Planning enough time to accomplish any tasks
- Creating a relaxing environment in the space you spend the most time.
- Socialising with positive people
- Getting involved in worthy causes
- Joining a support group
- Healthy food and sleep
- Regular exercise
A lot of people with MS note that when their core body temperature rises, MS symptoms often worsen. This is because an elevated temperature further impairs the ability of the demyelinated nerve to conduct electrical impulses. Activities such as sunbathing, high intensity exercise or taking hot baths and showers can have that effect.
Thankfully, these heat related symptoms are only temporary and improve once you cool down, it does not increase disease activity. Practising strategies for easing the effects of heat such as drinking cold fluids, using lightweight clothing and staying in air conditioned environments can help you to avoid exposure to overheating.
Customise your environment
The unpredictability of MS means that symptoms can strike suddenly and hinder your ability to navigate your environment effectively. Customising your home and work space for maximum efficiency can make life a lot easier for those with MS and minimise any risk.
Keep your essentials within easy reach, install safety features in the bathroom, kitchen and any stairways and decrease clutter to optimise your space when symptoms flare up.
Stay informed and connected
Support groups can be a great way to connect with others. Everyone’s experience will be unique but it’s important to receive assurance that you are not alone. There is a lot of power in sharing your story and hearing others perspectives. You can also learn how others are managing the condition and share tips that might work for you.
Reach out to your doctor or other medical professionals to help you formulate a treatment plan that best suits you. In the meantime, you can also:
- Research as much as you can about the condition, treatments, and support mechanisms.
- Talk to family and friends and seek support from the people that love you.
- Identify your support network and make use of local resources.
What Should People With MS Avoid?
MS triggers can include anything that exacerbates your symptoms. Just as anyone with the condition will experience different symptoms, everyone will likely experience different triggers. You may have some triggers in common with other people but you’ll likely find some that are unique to you.
Over time you may learn to identify triggers that make your symptoms worse. To help identify your triggers you can keep a diary of symptoms, what you were doing, what environment you were in and when they occured. Some of the most common triggers of MS symptoms include:
- Lack of sleep
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Poor diet
- High intensity exercise
- Eating saturated fats, trans fats, cow’s milk, gluten and refined carbs.
Can you Live a Normal Life with Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is not directly fatal and with the right level of self care, support and adaptations many people with MS live long, active and healthy lives.
Some people with MS may succumb to complications associated with the disease such as infections, cardiovascular disease and accidents. Treating these complications, the symptoms associated with MS and living a healthy lifestyle has been shown to greatly increase the life expectancy of someone with MS.
Maple Community Services can help you identify and achieve your life goals. Our extensive experience, capacity for 24/7 support, and community spirit sets us apart when it comes to multiple sclerosis support services. Our strong family values and friendly staff give you and your loved ones peace of mind and exceptional support to pursue a happy, fulfilling, and independent life.
Reach out to us today to find out more.