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What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

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Getting a Diagnosis

It can be hard to diagnose MS, since its symptoms can be the same as many other nerve disorders. If your doctor thinks you have it, he’ll want you to see a specialist who treats the brain and nervous system, called a neurologist. She’ll ask you about your medical history and check you for key signs of nerve damage in your brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.

There’s no single test that can prove you have MS. Your doctor will use a few different ones to check you. These may include:

  • Blood tests to rule out diseases that cause similar symptoms, like Lyme disease and AIDS
  • Checks of your balance, coordination, vision, and other functions to see how well your nerves are working
  • A test that makes detailed pictures of the structures in your body, called an MRI
  • Analysis of the liquid that cushions your brain and spinal cord, called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). People with MS usually have specific proteins in their CSF.

Treatment

There is no cure for MS right now, but a number of treatments can improve how you feel and keep your body working well.

Your doctor can also prescribe drugs that may slow the course of the disease, prevent or treat attacks, ease your symptoms, or help you manage the stress that can come with the condition.

Drugs that may slow your MS or help nerve damage include:

  • Beta interferon (Avonex, Betaseron, and Rebif)
  • Copolymer-1 (Copaxone)
  • Dimethyl fumarate
  • Teriflunomide
  • Mitoxantrone (Novantrone)
  • Dalfampridine (Ampyra)
  • Natalizumab (Tysabri)

Your doctor may give you steroids to make your MS attacks shorter and less severe. You can also try other drugs, like muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, or botulinum toxin (Botox), to ease muscle spasms and treat some of the other symptoms.  

A physical therapist can teach you exercises that will keep up your strength and balance and help you manage fatigue and pain. An occupational therapist can teach you new ways to do certain tasks to make it easier to work and take care of yourself. If you have trouble getting around, a cane, walker, or braces can help you walk more easily.

Along with treatment, you can do other things to ease your MS symptoms. Get regular exercise and avoid too much heat to boost your energy. Ask your doctor about trying yoga to ease fatigue or stress. Take care of your emotional health, too. It’s OK to ask family, friends, or a counselor for help with any stress or anxiety you may feel. Support groups are also great places to connect with other people living with MS.  

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