Work & Multiple Sclerosis
Experts describe strategies that help multiple sclerosis patients cope with symptoms of the disease.
Alternatives to Work
Choosing not to work full time anymore doesn't have to mean an end to productivity. "There are still ways to contribute as an active member of society," Nissen notes. Levy serves as a prime example. Having cut back to part-time work while battling daily pain and fatigue, she continued to find meaning through volunteer work.
"I stayed positive," says Levy who, almost immediately after being diagnosed, got involved in fundraising for the disease. "That's where I found my support group -- among other fundraisers," Levy tells WebMD.
Clearly, how people with MS cope makes a difference in their day-to-day existence.
"Those who have the hardest time are those who see it as a war to win. That's a setup for feelings of failure, guilt, and inadequacy when and if they can't beat it," says clinical psychologist Rosalind Kalb, PhD, director of the NMMS Professional Resource Center.
"Those most successful are those who say 'I can't win the war, but let's look at which aspects I can conquer,'" Kalb tells WebMD. To this end, Kalb urges patients to break the disease down into individual challenges, whether fatigue or spasticity. "This way, they feel like they're managing the disease rather than vice versa," she says.
Lifestyle choices can also make an impact on one's ability to manage MS.
Impact of Exercise
Exercise is one such choice. "Many years ago they used to say 'Don't exercise, it will make you too tired.' Now, we're encouraging patients to stay as active as possible," says Sheila Schaffer, a physical therapist at Kernan Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation Hospital in Baltimore.
New research results promote physical activity. One study found that exercise improved fitness and function in people with mild MS and helped maintain function for those with moderate or severe MS. Investigators found aerobic exercise that incorporated balance training to be the most effective type. In yet another study, an eight-week progressive resistance-training program improved walking and overall functional ability in people with moderate MS.
Researchers have begun to evaluate the role of diet and certain antioxidants in relation to MS. "There's a need for a well-balanced diet. I also recommend that patients take a multivitamin," says Walter Royal III, MD, associate professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Other experts stress the importance of a fiber-rich diet.
Royal and other researchers are exploring the potential role of vitamins D and A in the clinical course of the disease. For now, he does not recommend specific supplementation. "It can be quite hazardous to take excessive amounts of either vitamin," Royal tells WebMD.