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Comprehensive Care

Understand the importance of comprehensive MS care and meet the healthcare professionals who will partner with you to manage the disease and your health.

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In this article

A complex disease requires a comprehensive approach

Today multiple sclerosis (MS) is not a curable disease. Effective strategies can help modify or slow the disease course, treat relapses (also called attacks or exacerbations), manage symptoms, improve function and safety, and address emotional health.

The model of comprehensive MS care involves the expertise of many different healthcare professionals — each contributing in a unique way to the management of the disease and the symptoms it can cause. Sometimes this team works within a single center, offering “one-stop shopping” for people with MS. More often, people are referred by their MS physician to other specialists in the community. In either case, the goal is comprehensive, coordinated care to manage the disease and promote comfort, function, independence, health and wellness.

For most people with MS, the neurologist functions as the leader of the team. As a specialist in diseases of the nervous system, it is the neurologist’s job to make the MS diagnosis, identify treatment strategies and coordinate these treatment efforts with others members of the team.

The parts that make up the whole

Modifying the disease course

Ten disease-modifying medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat relapsing forms of MS. These medications reduce the frequency and severity of relapses (also called attacks or exacerbations),  reduce the accumulation of lesions in the brain and spinal cord as seen on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and may slow the accumulation of disabilty for many people with MS. No medications have yet been approved to treat primary-progressive MS.

Treating exacerbations

An exacerbation of MS is caused by inflammation in the central nervous system (CNS) that causes damage to the myelin and slows or blocks the transmission of nerve impulses. To be a true exacerbation, the attack must last at least 24 hours and be separated from a previous exacerbation by at least 30 days. However, most exacerbations last from a few days to several weeks or even months. Exacerbations can be mild or severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to function at home and at work. Severe exacerbations are most commonly treated with high-dose corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation.

Managing symptoms

In MS, damage to the myelin in the CNS and to the nerve fibers themselves interferes with the transmission of nerve signals between the brain and spinal cord and other parts of the body. This disruption of nerve signals produces the symptoms of MS, which vary depending on where the damage has occurred. MS symptoms can be effectively managed with a comprehensive treatment approach that includes medication(s) and rehabilitation strategies.

Promoting function through rehabilitation

Rehabilitation programs focus on function — they are designed to help you improve or maintain your ability to perform effectively and safely at home and at work. Rehabilitation professionals focus on overall fitness and energy management, while addressing problems with accessibility and mobility, speech and swallowing, and memory and other cognitive functions. Rehabilitation is an important component of comprehensive, quality healthcare for people with MS at all stages of the disease. Rehabilitation programs include cognitive and vocational rehabilitation, physical and occupational therapy, therapy for speech and swallowing problems, and more. 

Providing emotional support

Comprehensive care includes attention to emotional health as well as physical health. Mental health professionals provide support and education, as well as diagnose and treat the depression, anxiety and other mood changes that are so common in MS. Neuropsychologists assess and treat cognitive problems.  

MS is only part of overall health

Comprehensive MS care is part — but not all — of a person’s overall health management strategies. Like the general population, people with MS are subject to medical problems that have nothing to do with their MS — which means that regular visits with a primary care physician and age-appropriate screening tests are just as important for them as they are for everyone else. And the same goes for family members — your health and well-being are important too. 

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