Women are up to 3 times more likely than men to develop MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. As cases increase worldwide, it’s important to know how MS could affect your life.
MS is an autoimmune condition that involves the central nervous system. It occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks a fatty substance called myelin that covers your nerves. This disrupts communications between your brain and body.
The symptoms can affect any part of your body and vary widely for each individual. About 85% of patients have the relapsing-remitting form of MS where you may enjoy periods with little to no symptoms.
While there is no known cure, treatment options have expanded in recent years. Take a look at this quick guide to MS and how to live with it more comfortably.
- Consider the causes. There are many theories about what causes MS. It may be related to genetics, viral infections, and vitamin D deficiencies. Smoking and excess weight can also increase your risk.
- Know the general symptoms. Most symptoms are similar for men and women. That includes muscle spasms, fatigue, difficulty walking, blurred vision, and memory loss.
- Know the symptoms for women. The reason why women are more prone to MS may be due to hormonal differences and having more body fat. Symptoms may intensify during menstruation, menopause, and after giving birth.
- Get tested. MS is usually diagnosed by a combination of methods. Your doctor will probably order several tests and analyze your cerebrospinal fluid for the presence of certain proteins.
- Take medication. Drugs can be very effective for managing MS. Some of the most common medications include beta interferons to decrease the frequency and severity of attacks and other drugs to relieve specific symptoms such as muscle spasms or anxiety.
- Try physical therapy. Working with physical and occupational therapists can help. They can show you exercises to increase your strength and balance and suggest adaptations to your home and office to enhance your mobility and prevent falls.
- Eat a balanced diet. There is no special diet required for MS, but healthy eating may provide some relief. Many experts recommend high protein, high fiber, and low fat choices in order to reduce inflammation and keep bowel and bladder issues under control.
- Exercise regularly. Staying active is especially important when you have a chronic condition like MS. On days when you feel tired, try gentle activities like walking or restorative yoga. You may also enjoy low impact exercises in water.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco can trigger MS and aggravate the symptoms. Talk with your doctor if you need help quitting. Limiting alcohol may be beneficial too.
- Rest up. About 80% of MS patients experience fatigue that interferes with daily responsibilities. Make sleep a top priority. Your physical and occupational therapists can also help you with energy saving strategies and devices.
- Cool off. Excessive heat may make you feel worse. Lower your thermostat at home and sit by a fan. Drink plenty of water and dress in layers.
- Seek support. You may need a family member or a professional to assist you at times when your symptoms are severe. You may also want to speak with a counselor or join a support group with other MS patients so you can share validation and encouragement.
Living with MS can be challenging, but the situation is growing brighter. Life expectancy is increasing, and genetic research may find a cure. Meanwhile, you can help manage your symptoms with appropriate medical care and healthy lifestyle choices.