Much of the following, you will already know, from training and from your own reading and experience. However, Multiple Sclerosis affects more people every day, so it is worthwhile keeping your knowledge up-to-date.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a life-long neurological condition that affects the nerves and spinal cord. Though MS is a chronic disease, it is not terminal, and there many specialists and treatments that can help to manage the condition and its symptoms.
MS currently affects more than 100,000 people in the UK, with most people being diagnosed in their 40s and 50s, however, it can affect individuals of any age. Many people report noticing initial symptoms years before being diagnosed. MS affects almost 3 times as many women as men.
What is MS?
MS is a neurological condition that affects the brain, nerves and spinal cord. The symptoms of MS are caused by the destruction of a substance called myelin. Myelin protects the nerve fibres in the central nervous system, helping messages travel between the brain and the rest of the body.
In people with MS, the body’s immune system mistakes myelin for a foreign body and attacks it. This damages the myelin, leaving the nerve fibres without their protective covering, slowing down, distorting, or completely blocking the messages travelling between the brain and the rest of the body.
Over time, the exposure of these nerve fibres will cause MS symptoms to worsen.
Symptoms of MS
No two experiences with MS will be identical. The symptoms and disabilities a person experiences will depend on which part of their central nervous system is damaged.
Though many charities and foundations are funding research to find effective long-term treatments for MS, scientists are yet to discover a cure. However, there are many ways to manage MS, including medication, depending on the individual’s symptoms.
The symptoms of MS can be unpredictable. Individuals with MS may have periods where the symptoms rapidly worsen (known as a relapse), followed by days where the symptoms seem to disappear (remission).
Common symptoms of MS include:
- Fatigue (feeling tired or exhausted)
- Vision problems (e.g. loss of vision, colour blindness, double vision)
- Numbness and tingling
- Muscle spasms, stiffness and weakness
- Mobility problems (due to vertigo, tremors, or poor balance)
- Pain (directly related to MS, or indirect, as a result of other symptoms)
- Problems with thinking, memory or attention span
- Depression and anxiety (as well as other mood, emotional or behavioural changes)
- Loss of libido and problems with sexual performance
- Bladder problems (e.g. incontinence, UTIs)
- Bowel problems (e.g. incontinence, constipation)
- Difficulties with speech and swallowing (e.g. dysphagia)
Living with MS
Caring for someone with MS can be challenging. Your client may need to adapt their home as well as many other aspects of their daily routine to best manage their symptoms. However, with the right care and support, your client will still be able to lead an active, independent life.
By helping to manage the health and wellbeing of clients with MS, you can significantly improve their quality of life. This includes eating healthily, keeping as fit as possible, maintaining good overall physical and mental health, and conducting risk assessments to prevent accidents.
Eating well can help alleviate some of the symptoms of MS. Recommended foods include:
- Fresh fruit
- Low-fat protein
- Low-fat dairy
- Foods rich in vitamin D
- Plant-based oils
- Fatty fish (rich in omega 3)
It is also recommended that individuals with MS limit their intake of the following foods:
- Trans fats (animal-based foods and full-fat dairy products)
- Cow’s milk
- Refined grains
- Diet drinks
- Artificial sweeteners
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
For clients with MS, maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes not smoking, and limiting the intake of alcohol. Alcohol may exacerbate MS symptoms, and excessive consumption can cause liver damage, stomach ulcers, dementia and cancer. Research suggests that smoking can increase the risk of relapses and exacerbate progressive symptoms in MS sufferers, and is also linked to breathing problems and cancer.
Encourage your client to keep in touch with their care team and support network, so their condition can be regularly reviewed. This will give your client the opportunity to ask any questions they may have and discuss new treatments as they become available.
More information about managing MS can be found on the following websites: