Managing Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

4 Challenging MS Symptoms and What You Can Do About Them
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MS can be unpredictable and overwhelming, and symptoms often come with no warning. Here are some techniques to help you manage MS's most challenging symptoms.

Spasticity and MS

Stiffness and a wide range of involuntary muscle spasms, ranging from uncomfortable to extremely painful, are among the most common symptoms of MS. You can help relieve spasticity:

  • Establish a partnership with a health professional who will prescribe a tailor-made treatment for your kind of spasticity.

  • Watch the temperature. Spasticity is aggravated by heat and humidity.

  • Keep to a routine of light stretching exercises. Waist bends, gentle yoga, and aqua therapy are often advised.

  • Research antispastic meds. Baclofen and Zanaflex are two of the most commonly prescribed.

Fatigue and MS

Fatigue is one of MS's most common symptoms, and different from the fatigue in the general population in that it begins suddenly and generally occurs every day. Here's how to help manage it:

  • Save energy. Learn how to complete tasks while using less energy by seeking the input of an occupational or physical therapist.

  • Plan the day. Plan activities for when energy is highest, and keep the evenings low-key.

  • Turn down the heat. Heat aggravates many MS symptoms. Avoid situations in which the temperature is out of control. Use body-cooling vests and light clothing.

  • Watch the diet. Stay away from sugary drinks and caffeine, which cause dips in energy. Plan frequent meals during the day and drink plenty of water.

  • Develop good sleep habits. Look for underlying problems such as spasticity or nocturia (frequent nighttime bathroom trips) that may be at the root of sleep deprivation. Establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it. Take the TV out of the bedroom. Institute relaxation techniques, such as slow breathing and meditation, and make sure that bedclothes and nightclothes aren't the source of sleeplessness.

Cognitive Changes and MS

As caregiver, you may be the first to notice these changes. Fifty percent of people with MS will develop problems with cognition, including the ability to learn and remember information and understand and use language. However, only 5 to 10 percent of people with MS develop problems severe enough to interfere with everyday functions. Here's how you can help:

  • Look for underlying causes. According to the National MS Society, medications, anxiety, stress, and fatigue may contribute to cognitive changes. Have the doctor check into these factors.

  • Go high-tech. Try computer-mediated memory exercises recommended by an occupational therapist.

  • Designate one central place for organizing activities. Become skilled in compensating by using notebooks, computers, and calendars that can be accessed easily. Some people use dry-erase boards to remind them of everyday activities.

  • Make sure it's not too darn hot. In a study conducted in 2012 at Kessler Foundation Research Center in West Orange, New Jersey, participants with MS were asked to perform tasks when the temperature was low outside and when it was warmer. Participants did not do as well when the temperature was higher. Those who did not have MS performed equally well in the heat and in the cold.

Visual Symptoms and MS

People with MS often experience changes in vision, affecting eye movements, clarity, and visual coordination. Here are some things you can do:

  • Be calm. Most changes are temporary and go away on their own. Loss reaches its maximum extent in 4 days and usually goes away in 4 to 12 weeks without treatment. In some cases, a doctor recommends corticosteroids to reduce the time.

  • Check the environment. Make the home low-vision-friendly: Implement strong lighting, make sure kitchen tools are kept safely in the same place, and get rid of any scatter rugs and cords that can be tripping hazards.

  • Adjust computers. Check for brightness and font size, and limit screen time so not to fatigue the eyes.

Patricia Wadsley

Pat Wadsley is a contributing writer for Caring. See full bio