Managing MS is an ongoing process, beginning with the very first symptoms and continuing throughout the disease course. It’s never too soon or too late to think about how to access high quality care. Knowing what to look for, where to find it, and how to work effectively with your doctor and other health professionals is essential to your health and quality of life.
To take the best possible care of yourself it’s important to start by understanding what MS is the kinds of symptoms it can cause, and the ways it can affect your quality of life at home, at work, and in your leisure activities. Although every person’s MS behaves differently, having some basic facts at your fingertips will help you feel better prepared to deal with whatever comes along.
Although there is no cure for MS at the present time, management of the disease includes strategies to treat acute relapses (also called attacks, exacerbations, or episodes), slow disease activity, manage individual symptoms, promote function and independence, and provide emotional support. Together, these strategies make up comprehensive MS care. To manage your MS most effectively, it’s important to make sure that all of these aspects of your care are being addressed.
Comprehensive MS care involves collaboration and teamwork—between you and the health professionals whose skills best meet your needs. Physicians, nurses, rehabilitation specialists, and mental health professionals are just some of the experts that you may work with over the course of your MS. While some people are able to access most of their care through an MS center; others need to work with their doctor to assemble a team of individual practitioners in the community. The work of coordinating this care—and making sure that the different members of the team are in communication with one another—may well fall to you.
In today’s health care environment, there is seldom enough time during a single doctor visit to discuss all of your concerns—particularly given the number of symptoms MS can cause and the many ways it can affect your daily life. To make the best use of the limited time in the doctor’s office, remember that even the best doctor can’t read your mind. Come prepared with a prioritized list of problems and questions, and don’t wait until the end to bring up your most pressing issues. And don’t be bashful—anything that’s of concern to you, including problems with your mood, sexual function, thinking and memory, and bladder and bowel function, is of interest to your healthcare team.
Although managing MS can sometimes feel like a full-time job, it’s important to pay attention to your general health as well. People with MS face the same risks of cancer, heart disease, and stroke as everyone else—so it’s important to maintain good health habits and get regular check-ups. And protecting your health keeps you in the best shape possible for dealing with whatever symptoms or problems MS may cause.