If you’ve received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS), it’s important to ask questions.
That’s because MS is a complicated disease with diverse symptoms, and it’s different for each person. You should ask questions so that you know what to expect in the future, and to get information so that you can make informed decisions about what steps to take that might help you fight against the disease.
It’s also important to continue asking questions during the course of your treatment. Often so much information is conveyed in the doctor’s office, particularly during the initial visit, that most people find it impossible to absorb it all. Most doctors expect you to contact them with follow-up questions.
What questions should you ask?
Here are five questions that you may find helpful to ask your physician. These may lead to other questions and discussions of how best to treat your disease and protect your quality of life.
1. What form of MS do I have?
There are two forms of MS: relapsing-remitting and progressive. The relapsing-remitting form is characterized by self-limited episodes of neurological symptoms, while the progressive forms are characterized by gradually worsening symptoms. Relapsing MS can evolve into progressive MS years after onset. It’s vital to ask this question so that you know what to expect.
2. What treatments are available to prevent relapse and/or disease progression?
You’ll want to be as informed as possible when making a decision of which medication to start, or if a medication is indicated for your stage of disease. You should also ask how effective the different treatments are in comparison to one another, along with their potential side effects. Another thing to ask is whether or not you have any conditions or risk factors that should exclude certain medications.
3. What lifestyle changes can I make?
Certain behaviors have been shown to worsen the clinical course of MS, such as smoking, while others have the opposite effect, such as exercising.
4. Is it safe to exercise?
Asking about exercise is useful because exercise and yoga have been shown to be beneficial in patients with MS, both in alleviating certain symptoms and curtailing neurological decline. Be sure to ask if you should be evaluated by a physical therapist who can devise a customized exercise regimen just for you.
5. Can diet influence the course of my disease?
It’s crucial to eat a well-balanced diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are enriched in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel and herring), have been promoted as beneficial in MS. However, the results of clinical studies have been inconclusive. There’s evidence that low vitamin D levels are associated with increased risk of developing MS and a worse clinical course.
Therefore, taking Vitamin D3 supplements is often recommended.
Benjamin Segal is a neurologist who specializes in treating and researching multiple sclerosis at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He’s also professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and co-director of Ohio State’s Neurological Institute.