"You have multiple sclerosis."
You've heard those words and now it's time to decide what you're going to do about it. There is no obvious right or wrong that applies to all MS patients. It's not going to be that easy.
In my last post, Early Intervention in Multiple Sclerosis: Knowledge is Power, I spoke about self-education and research as the first items on the "to do" list, whether you've been definitively diagnosed or just suspect MS. Along with that, it is important to establish a relationship with a neurologist. Your doctor will inform you of your options and may make suggestions based on your individual symptoms.
One of the first questions that comes to mind is, "what is my prognosis?" Unfortunately, it is all but impossible for your doctor to answer that question when it comes to MS. It's just too variable and unpredictable disease.
There ARE some basic things that you should carefully consider.
- Disease-modifying drugs: Many patients, especially those who have relatively minor symptoms, opt NOT to take any of the currently available disease-modifying medications. It is an intensely personal decision to be made with the advice of a doctor and taking into consideration the cost and commitment to injectable medications. Many studies indicate that earlier you begin treatment, the better your chances of slowing progression. Again, do your research and make the best possible decision for your life.
- Medications to control symptoms: The list of MS symptoms is long, as is the list of medications available to control individual symptoms. You can choose to try various medications or to deal with symptoms in other ways. It is something that can only be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Be careful not to let others push you into taking medications you don't need, or to make you feel guilty for needing help.
- Exercise and diet: Neither exercise or diet will cure your MS. However, a healthy, well-balanced diet along with an appropriate exercise program will enable you to stay as strong and healthy as possible. MS does not protect you from other medical problems, so aim to ward off preventable illness.
- Employment: Whether or not you remain employed full-time, part-time, or not at all depends on how troublesome your particular symptoms of MS are. It's never an easy choice to make and, in fact, may change over time. You are under no obligation to reveal your diagnosis to your employer, but you will have to if you are requesting any special accommodations.
- Financial outlook: Multiple sclerosis is an expensive disease. If you even suspect MS, it's time to start some serious financial planning (to be covered in a future post.)
- Allow a short period of time to grieve what was. Accept what is. Continue full-steam ahead.