Top 10 Things to Tell Your Doctor If You Have MS

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Living with a chronic disease such as MS can be complicated, confusing, and certainly life-changing. Many patients with MS see their neurologist once every 6-12 months for a limited 15-20 minute appointment. It’s important that we, as patients, make the most of this valuable time. Here are 10 things you should routinely discuss with your doctors.


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Treatments

Document all of the medications, vitamins, and supplements you take on a routine, or occasional, basis. Be sure to indicate dosage, frequency, and reason for taking. Some supplements may interact with prescribed medications so it is important to share this information with your doctors. It is also helpful to discuss ways that you are taking care of yourself in order to maximize health.


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Symptoms

Beyond the neurological exam, much of an appointment with a neurologist is spent discussing symptoms and treatment options. Be prepared to tell your doctor about symptoms you may be experiencing - new, old, severe, mild, worsening, constant or intermittent. Even if you think that something might not be related to MS, tell your doctor. Options for relief may be available.


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Physical activity

It is important to stay as physically and mentally active as possible when you live with MS. Remember the old axiom “use it or lose it”? With MS, you definitely want to use it. Improving strength and mobility will help you stay independent longer. Ask for a referral to a physical therapist, and/or suitable exercise programs in your area, in order to maximize your abilities.


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Emotional well-being

MS can affect emotions, mood, and overall sense of well-being. Depression and anxiety are extremely common in MS. Not only are they symptoms of MS, they can be caused by changing life circumstances. If you have lost interest in favorite activities or you are having difficulty dealing with emotions and changes in mood, please discuss with your doctor.


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Cognitive difficulties

Multiple sclerosis can dramatically impair cognitive function which may impact gainful employment and social activities. Symptoms such as depression can also impair cognitive function. Personalized strategic coping skills can help you overcome or deal with cognitive problems. Discuss this with your doctor so that you can access the services and treatment you may need.


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Daily living challenges

Tell your doctor if you have difficulty completing “activities of daily living”, or ADLs, which are basic tasks of everyday life, such as eating, bathing, dressing, using the toilet, and transferring. A rehabilitation therapist can work with you to find easier ways to complete ADLs, while a social worker may be able to connect you with resources in your area.


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Embarrassing matters

Tell your doctor about any “accidents” or difficulties you may be having, particularly due to bladder or bowel problems. It is important to address problems before they begin to erode your quality of life. Don’t be embarrassed; your doctor can only help or refer you to a specialist if he/she knows that you are having difficulties.


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Sex and family planning

MS doesn’t impact fertility, but can interfere with sexual function. Some treatments for MS are known to cause harm to an unborn fetus, requiring use of effective birth control. Discuss concerns related to sexual activity, pregnancy, medication, contraception, and family planning with your doctor. Do not use Aubagio or Novantrone if you are, or plan to become, pregnant.


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Quality of life

It is important to tell your doctor how activities and symptoms affect your daily life. If you become fatigued after walking a short distance, a parking permit might reduce your risk of falling. A mental health professional may be able to help you develop effective coping skills. Be prepared to share detailed information with your doctor to improve your well-being.


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Questions

Each time you have a doctor’s appointment, be prepared with at least three questions you would like answered. Remember that you only get approximately 15-20 minutes with your doctor 1-3 times each year to take care of business. Prioritize your needs and maximize time in the office. Don’t let questions and concerns become an afterthought, or worse yet, forgotten thoughts.