5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About MS

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Q. Why should I keep track of my MS symptoms?

A. When you document symptoms and body functions that might be affected by MS, you make it easier to recognize disease progression. The aim to keep a running list of new symptoms, ongoing symptoms, and symptoms that may have resolved. Rate each on a scale of 0 to 5 (0=absent, 1=mild, 3=moderate, 5=severe). Bring this list to doctors' appointments and discuss with your physician.

Q. What symptoms should I watch for?

A. The most common problems people experience with multiple sclerosis are vision issues, vertigo, weakness or numbness in the limbs, balance and coordination problems, falling or trouble walking, speech problems, memory loss, confusion or hallucinations, decreased concentration, poor judgment or reasoning, fatigue, bladder or bowel problems,and sexual difficulties. Of course, you will probably not have all of these, and you may have others. Everyone with MS is different when it comes to types and severity of symptoms.

Q. How does my doctor know if my MS drug is working?

A. If you continue to have exacerbations of symptoms after starting a medication, then that drug may not be working for you. An MRI is generally recommended before you start a new therapy, six months later, and then on a yearly basis. If you have a relapse after being on a drug for six months to a year, your doctor may work with you to choose a new therapy.

Q. How do I know if I’m having a relapse?

A. A relapse meets these criteria: New symptoms appear or old ones worsen; the episode of new or worsening symptoms lasts more than 24 hours; symptoms do not occur within 30 days of a previous relapse; you have no active infection; and there is no other explanation for your symptoms. If you are in doubt, call your doctor. Only a doctor can determine the best course of action.

Q. Why should I consider seeing an MS specialist?

A. A specialist can help you navigate increasingly complex treatment options. “With the extensive battery of treatments available today, I recommend that patients seek a referral to an MS center through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society or the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers,” says Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, M.D., professor of neurology at the State University of New York at Buffalo and director of the Jacobs MS Center for Treatment and Research.