Self-Care for MS Symptoms

Multiple sclerosis (MS) can bring on a wide range of symptoms, including weakness, fatigue, trouble walking, and vision problems. You also may struggle with other more hidden complications, including mood swings, anxiety, and depression.

It’s important to follow your doctor’s advice. There’s no at-home remedy for MS. But there are things you can do to feel better and ease your symptoms.

These tips may make it easier to do the things you enjoy

Take Notes

One of the first steps to managing your MS symptoms is to recognize what they are in the first place. Keep track of any changes in how you feel by writing them down. Make it a habit every day. Look for patterns that might help you understand why you feel particularly weak or fatigued on some days and not as much on others.

Do symptoms get worse after a certain activities? At certain times each day? Could it be related to stress? Does heat make you feel worse? Recognizing patterns can help you to anticipate and limit your symptoms. It will also help you plan your days.

Eat Well

It’s a good idea for anyone to eat a balanced and nutritious diet. That’s especially important when you have a chronic condition like MS. But there is no “MS diet,” and your MS won’t go away no matter how well you eat.

Be skeptical of anything you see online touting a diet or anything else as a miracle cure. Special diets might even be harmful if they include too much of certain things like vitamins or not enough of others.

Some studies have suggested a connection between low vitamin D and MS risk or progression. But the evidence on this is mixed. Even if vitamin D were helpful, it’s not clear how much you should take. And too much vitamin D might even be bad for you. Talk to your doctor about any vitamins or other supplements you’re taking or thinking about taking.

Stay Active

Are you exercising as much as you used to? Regular exercise can help you improve or maintain your strength and flexibility. It also may help with fatigue, your ability to think clearly, and even your mood. All of this can boost your quality of life.

Before starting a new exercise routine, talk it over with your doctor. Be careful not to overdo it. Start simple and try a couple of exercises you know already or ones that appeal to you. Do it at a time when you feel your best. Make note of how you feel afterward, and adjust until you find something that works for you.

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Get Sleep

Trouble sleeping is a common problem when you have MS. When you don’t get enough rest, you may struggle more with memory, attention, and thinking. Changes in the way you sleep also may be a sign of depression.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are some things you can try. Keep a regular schedule, and do things that help you relax before bedtime. Avoid caffeine and electronics before you go to bed. Trouble breathing during sleep (sleep apnea) is common when you have MS. If you think you have sleep apnea or are struggling with insomnia, talk to your doctor about what treatments can help.

Don’t Smoke

Smokers are more likely to get MS in the first place. Smoking also can make your disease and symptoms worse. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting.

Limit Your Alcohol

If you enjoy relaxing with a glass of wine, there’s no reason you shouldn’t. There’s no evidence that drinking alcohol responsibly will make MS worse. But when you have MS, alcohol might affect you more than it used to. You might notice changes in your balance or coordination after a drink. Be mindful of that.

Stay Cool

MS symptoms often get worse when you are too hot. But it’s temporary. It won’t make your disease worse.

You may want to limit how much time you spend in the heat. If you need to be out on a hot day, try cooling vests, neck wraps, or bandanas. Wear lightweight clothing, and drink plenty of water. Take a cool shower or bath after you exercise.

Relieve Stress

Having a chronic condition like MS can be stressful. Some studies also suggest that MS and its symptoms tend to get worse after stressful life events, although it’s not clear how this works exactly.

There’s no way to completely avoid stress. But it is a good idea to do what you can to relax and relieve stress in ways that work for you.

Some options include:

One study found that an 8-week stress management program for people with MS helped with thinking, memory, stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Ask your health team if there’s a program or counselor they could recommend.

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Recognize a Relapse

Most people with MS have a type called relapsing-remitting MS. That means you will sometimes get new symptoms, or symptoms you’ve had will get worse before they get better again or go into a remission period. Sometimes these periods of worsening symptoms are called attacks or exacerbations.

If new symptoms or worsening symptoms last at least 24 hours, your doctor will consider it an exacerbation. Don’t try to handle it alone. Talk to your doctor to find out if you need treatment to get the disease and your symptoms back under control.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 21, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Multiple Sclerosis.”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Symptom Management,” “Diet & Nutrition,” “Unhealthy Habits,” “Heat & Temperature Sensitivity,” “Emotional Well-Being,” “Relapsing-Remitting MS,” “Managing Relapses.”

Multiple Sclerosis Trust: “MS and me: a self-management guide to living with MS.”

Journal of Neurology: “Vitamin D for the treatment of multiple sclerosis: a meta-analysis.”

BMC Neurology: “Exercise prescription for patients with multiple sclerosis; potential benefits and practical recommendations.”

Sleep: “Sleep and Cognitive Function in Multiple Sclerosis.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center: “8 healthy sleep habits.”

Journal of Neurological Sciences: “The association of alcohol consumption and smoking with quality of life, disability and disease activity in an international sample of people with multiple sclerosis.”

BMJ: “Association between stressful life events and exacerbation in multiple sclerosis: a meta-analysis.”

Neurological Research: “A novel cognitive-behavioral stress management method for multiple sclerosis. A brief report of an observational study.”

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