Working With Your Multiple Sclerosis Doctor
Getting the right care can make a world of difference in your treatment for MS and your quality of life. Typically, you will have a team of care providers, which may include a neurologist, nutritionist, social worker, psychologist, neuropsychologist, and physical and occupational therapists, among other providers. Seeing a neurologist who specializes in the treatment of MS is optimal.
The goal of treatment is to slow the progression of the disease or to halt it entirely. But measuring this is not as easy as it may sound, as symptoms can fluctuate from day to day and visit to visit. That’s one reason why your physician will likely want to see you every three to six months in the first one or two years after your diagnosis. After that, your visits may occur anywhere from every six months to annually.
Tests to Expect
Once you are diagnosed with MS, you will need regular tests to monitor how well you are responding to therapies and to determine whether your disease is progressing. These tests may include:
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) This produces detailed images of your body. With an MRI of the brain and spinal cord, doctors can spot lesions that are characteristic of MS, as well as other changes.
Neurological exams Your doctor will test your reflexes to see if nerves are firing in a normal way. Checking your coordination can reveal problems with the cerebellum. Since MS is likely to affect your gait, your doctor will see if you can walk normally up and down a hall, on your toes and heels, and heel-to-toe, as though you were being given a sobriety test. You will also do simple tests of balance.
Vision tests It’s not unusual for people with MS to experience vision problems, such as blurred vision, blindness in one eye, or double vision, so your doctor will look for signs of damage to your optic nerve.
A gauge of your senses Your doctor may test your ability to feel pain and other sensations, along with your senses of smell, taste, and hearing.
Cognitive tests MS can affect the way your brain functions, so you may receive tests that focus on processing speech; learning and memory; reasoning and planning; visual perception and spatial processing; and language.
Preparing for Your Visit It can help to collect your thoughts and questions about topics such as new treatments or research ahead of time so you don’t forget anything during the visit. Use these tips to assemble information to bring to your appointment.
Keep a log of your symptoms Describe any changes (both good and bad) that have occurred with regard to your symptoms and health since your last appointment. “A weekly log is helpful,” suggests 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.
Ask for prescription refills List the medications you need and, for each, note whether it’s a monthly or three-month prescription.
After the Visit
Ask for a printed copy of any instructions your doctor gives you. Be sure to set up your next appointment, since attending to symptoms promptly can make a dramatic difference in disease progression.