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Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence


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Staying Well with Multiple Sclerosis

Rebecca Spain, MD, MSPH

Staying well with MS means not just keeping on top of your MS, but also taking charge of your general health. Because people with MS can still develop medical conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and cancers, it is important to have a yearly primary care evaluation. During these visits, your primary care provider can manage your existing health problems, screen for new health conditions, and make sure you get your routine health screenings.

To successfully manage your MS, it is also important to be seen at least once a year by an MS specialist. An MS specialist is generally someone in the neurology, rehabilitation, or spinal cord injury department with additional training in MS. MS specialists are able to help figure out if what you are experiencing is due to your MS, or due to other medical problems. This specialty clinic evaluation may include a comprehensive neurological history review and neurological examination. Your MS evaluation is a great opportunity to find out what is new in the management of MS and to find ways to stay active with your family and friends. If you don’t know your MS specialist, or don’t have an upcoming appointment, ask your primary care provider for a referral.

Your primary care provider and MS specialist work closely together to care for you. You can help prepare for efficient and productive primary care and specialty care visits. Bring all of your medications, including the ones prescribed by a non-VA provider, a naturopath, and those purchased over the counter. Also, bring any medical records and test results that are not VA documents. Write a list of your most important questions and identify which are priorities ahead of time. Tell all of your concerns to both your primary care provider and MS specialist, and let them decide who should best address each concern. Similarly, your primary care provider and MS specialist may ask you similar questions such as:

  • How well are you able to perform self-care such as bathing, dressing, transfers, eating, meal preparation, and other chores?
  • What type of assistance or equipment do you require?
  • Are you experiencing difficulties with work?
  • What type of social support do you have from family, friends, and your community?
  • How much tobacco do you smoke?
  • How much alcohol do you drink?
  • Do you use any other substances?

Taking charge of your general health means more than just seeing your primary health care provider. It means taking care of the day to day activities that prevent and treat diseases. Did you know that taking care of your general health also helps your MS? Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie and colleagues reviewed a large North American database and found that people with MS who also had even one vascular risk factor - high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, or diabetes - had MS walking problems an average of 6 years sooner than those without those conditions!

Vascular risk factors are all preventable and all treatable with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and positive mindset. Diet, exercise, and strong mental health are absolutely necessary to staying well with MS. The VA has many resources to help achieve these goals such as the VA MOVE! Weight Management and Whole Health Programs.

Staying well with MS means taking charge of your general health and taking the time to care for your primary and specialty needs. Doing so is a great way to maximize your life potential.