Multiple Sclerosis is not a death sentence — Here's why

Getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis can be scary. There’s still so much we don’t know about the disease, but medication and lifestyle changes can help people manage their symptoms.

Multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system and complicates the flow of information between the brain and the rest of the body. Symptoms vary, but can include fatigue, muscle weakness, vision problems, and difficulty walking. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, multiple sclerosis affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

There are four types of MS, which are determined by the number of relapses and remissions of symptoms, as well as the rate at which neurologic functions get progressively worse over time.

The most common type of MS is relapsing remitting (RRMS), with around 85 percent of people receiving this initial diagnosis. Other types include clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), primary progressive (PPMS) and secondary progressive (SPMS). 

While there is no cure for MS, there are a dozen disease-modifying treatments approved by the FDA. These treatments work with parts of the immune system to reduce the inflammation and damage caused by MS. They can even help to reduce the number of relapses, slow the progression of disability, and delay development of new damage in the brain.

For the most part, these medications treat relapsing forms of MS. That said, in 2017 the FDA approved a drug that is the first of its kind to treat both relapsing forms of MS and primary progressive MS. There’s also some promising new research that involves transplanting stem cells to reboot the immune system and decrease inflammation.

In addition to medicine, lifestyle changes like eating a balanced diet and consistent physical activity can help ease symptoms.

“Exercise is really important,” Kathy Costello, associate vice president of clinical care at the National MS Society and a nurse practitioner, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It can help with things like flexibility and strength. It can help to manage fatigue. It can even help with mood and cognitive function.”

To manage pain, Costello also suggests alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and aquatic therapy in a non-heated pool. As Costello puts it, “we really need to think outside the box, and a more holistic approach is needed to manage pain.”

Ultimately, the key to managing MS is developing a comprehensive treatment plan with your team of healthcare professionals. By working together, you can come up with effective strategies to help manage your symptoms and live a full life.

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