1. Learn as much as possible about MS. There are many myths and misconceptions about Multiple Sclerosis and without the facts, your MS diagnosis can be scarier than it should be. MS is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting the central nervous system. It is thought to be caused by the immune system attacking myelin, the protective insulation covering nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord.
2. Be sure your MS diagnosis is definitive. MS is not an easy disease to diagnose, so getting a definitive diagnosis can be a waiting game. Various tests may be used to make a diagnosis, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), evoked potentials (EP), and spinal fluid analysis (spinal tap), as well as a neurological exam. According to the latest criteria, your physician must do all of the following in order to make an MS diagnosis:
- Find evidence of damage in two separate areas of the central nervous system
- Find evidence that the damage occurred at least one month apart
- Rule out all other possible diseases and diagnoses
3. Understand that MS symptoms are unpredictable. No two people have exactly the same MS symptoms, and you may have different symptoms from time to time. MS symptoms can include numbness, blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, extreme fatigue, problems with memory, bladder dysfunction, paralysis, blindness, and more. But these symptoms are unpredictable. “Over the course of the disease, some MS symptoms will come and go, while others may be long lasting,” Dr. Sheremata says. “It will be different for each MS patient.”
4. Don’t delay MS treatment. The goal of MS treatment is to control symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life. After receiving an MS diagnosis, it’s important to start treatment as soon as possible. A number of FDA-approved medications have been shown to “modify” or slow down the progression of MS and lessen the frequency and severity of MS attacks. “The disease is more likely to progress and possibly lead to disability if you don’t begin treatment early in the disease,” Sheremata says.
5. Track your MS symptoms. Keeping a record of your MS symptoms and how you are feeling will help your doctor determine how the disease is progressing and whether the medications you are taking are working. This will also help your doctor recognize a relapse, which is characterized by a worsening of previous symptoms or the appearance of a new symptom that lasts more than 24 hours. If you think you’re having MS symptoms, write them down in a log. Include when the symptoms happened, details of what they felt like, and how long they lasted.